Everyone knew the opening night of the Democratic National Convention – in Philadelphia this time – think the Liberty Bell and cheesesteaks – wasn’t really going to go well. The Republicans gave us chaos in Cleveland, but Donald Trump thrives on chaos. Democrats don’t but that’s what they got:
Democratic Party leaders scrambled on Monday night to rescue their convention from political bedlam as supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders erupted in boos, jeers and protests against Hillary Clinton after an email leak showed that party officials had sought to undermine Mr. Sanders in their race for the nomination.
Convention organizers shifted Mr. Sanders to a more prominent speaking slot in hopes that he would soothe his most ardent backers. Those supporters have become increasingly frustrated with the party’s embrace of Mrs. Clinton, whom they see as too accommodating to big business and Republicans.
Mr. Sanders himself sent a text message imploring his delegates, “as a personal courtesy to me, to not engage in any kind of protest on the floor.” The Clinton and Sanders operations also combined their teams on the convention floor to coordinate appeals to delegates who might be disruptive.
That wasn’t going to work:
Throughout the day, more than 1,000 supporters of Mr. Sanders took to the scalding streets of Philadelphia to vent their frustration. Some targeted Mrs. Clinton with a taunting chant from last week’s Republican convention: “Lock her up!” Other protesters gathered outside the downtown Ritz-Carlton, where many major donors to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign were staying, and attacked her use of a “super PAC” and her reliance on six-figure fund-raising events.
Even Mr. Sanders, who has vowed to do whatever it takes to stop Mr. Trump from winning in November, had little luck making the case to his followers that they should vote for Mrs. Clinton. In a rare display of rebellion at a lunchtime gathering of his delegates, he was drowned out by boos when he mentioned Mrs. Clinton, and seemed jarred by the response.
“We have got to defeat Donald Trump, and we have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine,” Mr. Sanders said to a round of jeers.
Even their hero was dead to them now, and Andrew Sullivan laid out the problem:
Those of us who were relieved by the not-so-great delivery of Trump’s deftly framed acceptance speech last Thursday night are not so relieved today. Trump has a pretty normal post-convention bounce, putting him essentially neck and neck with Clinton. The Russian hack of DNC emails – timed to advance Trump’s pro-Kremlin candidacy – has exposed how deeply the Clintons have controlled this whole process from the start through their puppet, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (and how profoundly Putin wants Trump to win). The die-hard Bernie fans are now actually copying the deeply ugly “Lock Her Up!” chants of Cleveland. They’re even booing Sanders when he makes the case for uniting against Trump.
So the theme of this Monday is “Crooked Hillary.” Could Trump have crafted this day any better? At the same time, a candidate who openly called for mass deportation, war crimes, disbanding NATO and a trade war is now ahead in Nate Silver’s “now-cast” of polling results. The great unknowable about America is what would happen if fascism were actually on the ballot. It’s never happened before. But if you thought fascism would be taboo, the American people are proving you wrong.
So the Clintons have a real task ahead this week. They have to keep the focus on the unique and unprecedented threat that Donald Trump poses to liberal democracy and constitutional order. They also have to give us enough Hillary Clinton to reassure us she’s a viable president, but not so much that the vast numbers of people who distrust her start wishing for anyone else.
That put her in a bind:
She needs Obama. She needs Sanders. And she needs Kaine. She needs the political skills of her husband (because she has almost none) and she needs a message as clear as “I’m With You,” or “Make America Great Again.” She needs to explain simply what her presidency would achieve, what its goals are, what its core message is. So far, she hasn’t. She has four days to make a start.
And this wasn’t a good start, although Kevin Drum clearly blames Bernie Sanders:
It’s one thing to fight on policy grounds, as he originally said he would, but when you start promising the moon and explicitly accusing Hillary Clinton of being a corrupt shill for Wall Street – well, there are some bells that can be un-rung. He convinced his followers that Hillary was a corporate warmonger more concerned with lining her own pockets than with progressive principles, and they still believe it. And why wouldn’t they? Their hero told them it was true.
But that was bullshit:
Hillary is no saint. But her reputation as dishonest and untrustworthy is about 90 percent invention. Republicans have been throwing mud against the wall forever in an attempt to smear her, and the press has played along eagerly the entire time. When Bernie went down that road, he was taking advantage of decades of Republican lies in the hopes of winning an unwinnable battle. He was also playing directly into Donald Trump’s hands.
I don’t know. Maybe he never realized how seriously his young followers took him. It’s possible. But he really needs to do something about this.
That seemed to be impossible:
The tension reverberated from the floor of the hall to the stage. By 9:30 p.m., the outbursts had turned so loud and persistent that the comedian Sarah Silverman scolded the Sanders supporters who were shouting over her remarks.
“Can I just say to the Bernie-or-bust people,” she said, adopting their own nickname, “you are being ridiculous.”
She told them to just grow up, and they hated that, but there was a plan:
Clinton campaign officials, in another bid to placate the party’s left wing, picked Senator Elizabeth Warren to deliver the keynote address on Monday night, hoping that her searing denunciations of Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee, would unify the delegates in the hall. Mrs. Clinton had privately chosen Ms. Warren days ago, campaign officials said, but announced her on Monday morning to try to set a positive tone for the first day of the convention and start closing ranks for the fight against Mr. Trump.
Several veterans of Democratic conventions said they had not seen anything at recent gatherings like Monday’s disruptions. From the moment the gavel fell to open the convention at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday afternoon, Mr. Sanders’s supporters let out boos and jeers at almost any mention of Mrs. Clinton’s name.
This really didn’t go well:
Mr. Sanders, who took the stage here at about 10:50 p.m. to a thundering three-minute ovation and chants of “Bernie, Bernie,” acknowledged the disappointment of his supporters and said, “It is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues.”
But he said the choice between his onetime rival and Mr. Trump was “not even close.” “Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president, and I am proud to stand with her here tonight,” Mr. Sanders said as his supporters waved his blue campaign signs.
Ms. Warren opened her remarks with a warm nod to Mr. Sanders, saying his campaign had advanced liberal causes and helped show that the political and economic systems were “rigged” in favor of the powerful.
“Bernie reminds us what Democrats fight for every day,” Ms. Warren said. “Thank you, Bernie.”
Yet even after Ms. Warren was well into her remarks, a handful of determined supporters of Mr. Sanders tried to interrupt her. “We trusted you!” they yelled, suggesting that she had betrayed them by supporting Mrs. Clinton.
These catcalls, as well as the images of delegates in Sanders T-shirts waving placards that read “Hill No,” were not the sort of messages that the Clinton campaign wanted. Mrs. Clinton, who had a hand in choosing the speakers, had hoped that the convention would be the picture of unity, in contrast to the Republican convention last week. Instead, she was reminded that many Americans, including some die-hard Democrats, do not like her or believe that she will bring significant change to the government.
On the other hand, Priscilla Alvarez notes the speaker no one could boo:
Michelle Obama looked toward the next generation in an emotional speech on the convention stage Monday night.
“It’s hard to believe that it has been eight years since I first came to this convention to talk with you about why I thought my husband should be president,” Obama began. She recalled those first days in the White House and her daughters’ first day at their new school. But none of it came easy.
In a veiled jab to Donald Trump, Obama highlighted the challenges of bringing up a family at the White House, “how we urge [our daughters] to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith.”
What was this, an appeal to decency and propriety and good manners? That’s what is was, although she did twist the knife:
Without naming Trump, Obama later delivered a point-by-point attack of the Republican nominee. “I want someone with the proven strength to persevere. Someone who knows this job and takes it seriously. Someone who understands that the issues a president faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters,” she said, adding: “Because when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions.”
But for much of the speech, Obama kept the focus on today’s children, including her own.
The first lady’s remarks aimed to validate Clinton’s campaign. “I trust Hillary to lead this country because I’ve seen her lifelong devotion to our nation’s children,” she said. Obama went through a laundry list of the former secretary of state’s accomplishments, evidence of her qualifications to serve as president. And in what appeared to be a subtle message to Bernie Sanders’s supporters, she said, “When she didn’t win the nomination eight years ago, she didn’t get angry or disillusioned.”
Yes, she also told the Bernie-or-Bust folks to grow up, but this time they didn’t boo. They didn’t dare:
Obama also lauded Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, praising leaders like him “who show our kids what decency and devotion look like.”
The message of diversity and perseverance was not lost, either. “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” she said. “I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”
All the nonsense ended right there:
Obama, a hugely popular figure in the Democratic Party, has largely stayed behind the scenes this primary season. The Washington Post reports: “Her opening-night slot reflects more than just her steady popularity: Organizers also appreciate her unerring knack for making headlines – and capturing the attention of people who don’t otherwise follow the news cycle closely.”
And so it was: The speech was raw, it was full of emotion. Obama became weepy when she spoke about Clinton “putting cracks in that hardest of glass ceilings.” So did many delegates. And at the end of it, the arena simply went wild.
That may have been the turning point of the evening, although Sophia Tesfaye suggests that might have come earlier:
What began as rowdy and chaotic opening afternoon for the Democratic National Convention gave way to an electric and rousing primetime lineup of emotional speeches by the nation’s top Democrats, anchored by the only black Democratic senator reciting Maya Angelou’s most iconic poem.
“Let me tell you right now, when Trump spews insulting and demeaning words about our fellow Americans, I think that poem by Maya Angelou,” New Jersey Senator Corey Booker said during a speech that was occasionally interrupted by chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “War Hawk.”
“‘You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies; you may trod me in the very dirt. But still, like dust, I’ll rise,'” he said, reciting the famous Angelou poem with help from the crowded hall.
“Let us declare a day that we will be a free people, free from fear and intimidation,” he later said. “We are the United States of America. Our best days are ahead of us. Together with Hillary Clinton as our president, America, we will rise.”
That brought down the house, and he was on a roll:
“I respect and value the ideals of rugged individualism and self-reliance. But rugged individualism didn’t defeat the British; it didn’t get us to the moon, build our nation’s highways or map the human genome. We did that together,” Booker said in his convention speech. “This is the high call of patriotism. Patriotism is love of country. But you can’t love your country without loving your countrymen and countrywomen. We don’t always have to agree, but we must empower each other, we must find the common ground, we must build bridges across our differences to pursue the common good.”
“We’ve watched Donald Trump, our children, our daughters, our nieces, and grandkids have watched him calling women degrading names: ‘dog,’ ‘fat pig,’ ‘disgusting,’ animal,'” Booker continued, turning his attention to the GOP nominee. “It is a twisted hypocrisy when he treats other women in a manner he would never, ever accept from another man speaking about his daughters or his wife.”
“Trump said he would run our country like he would run his businesses,” Booker said. “Well, I am from Jersey, and we see how he leads in Atlantic City. He got rich while his companies declared multiple bankruptcies.”
The audience was stunned, but they weren’t alone:
Booker’s speech was apparently so good it warranted a quick response from the notoriously thin-skinned GOP nominee – “If Cory Booker is the future of the Democratic Party, they have no future! I know more about Cory than he knows about himself.”
Yeah, right. Trump has also said “I know more about ISIS than the generals, believe me.” He’s becoming a parody of himself.
Something had shifted, and one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers puts it this way:
I too am an ex-conservative looking for a home and was very concerned by the start of this night with a fear it was playing to the hands of Trump.
Maybe I’m being a Pollyanna, but I am struck by the difference between this Monday and last Monday. Between Booker’s call for a bright future and the need to be together, and Michelle Obama’s vision, to Giuliani’s “they are coming to kill us” I’m struck and wondering when the roles reversed. It used to be the Republicans (Reagan and even Bush 1) who painted a picture of Americans at their best, and the Democrats who put forth cynicism and fear. I realize these are just words tonight and there is much work – but the visions painted between this week and last paint the picture of what is at stake.
Sullivan adds this:
Watching some of these Bernie supporters throw various hissy fits, I wonder if I would have found myself backing Clinton. I understand the passion but they sure come off as assholes. Sanders himself was far better – poised, happy to have swung the debate his way, and endorsing Clinton without any serious caveats at all.
It all worked out:
A rough and unappealing start but a stellar speech from Michelle Obama and a revival of Obama’s core message from Cory Booker. The first lady’s speech was one that will actually win over undecided or queasy voters. It reaches every parent in their gut. It’s a message that could win the election. The stakes have never been higher in my lifetime.
Perhaps so, and another conservative looking for a home, George Will, who just quit the Republican Party over Trump, offers a curious historical parallel:
En route to fight one of his many duels, French politician Georges Clemenceau bought a one-way train ticket. Was he pessimistic? “Not at all. I always use my opponent’s return ticket for the trip back.” Some Hillary Clinton advisers, although not that serene, think her victory is probable and can be assured.
Her challenge is analogous to Ronald Reagan’s in 1980, when voters were even more intensely dissatisfied than they now are. There were hostages in Iran, and stagflation’s “misery index” (the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates) was 21.98. By August 1979, 84 percent of Americans said the country was on the wrong track. A substantial majority did not want to reelect Jimmy Carter, but a majority might have done so unless convinced that Reagan would be a safe choice. Reagan’s campaign responded by buying time for several half-hour televised speeches and other ads stressing his humdrum competence.
Humdrum competence can work wonders:
Now, voters reluctant to support the unpleasant and unprepared Republican also flinch from Clinton, partly because of the intimacy the modern presidency forces upon them: As one Clinton adviser uneasily notes, a president spends more time in the typical family’s living room than anyone who is not a family member. Clinton is not a congenial guest.
Her opponent radiates anger, and the United States has not elected an angry president since Andrew Jackson, long before television brought presidents into everyone’s living room, where anger is discomfiting. Clinton’s campaign must find ways to present her as more likable than she seems and more likable than her adversary, both of which are low thresholds.
And he likes her particular humdrum competence:
Clinton’s selection of Virginia’s former governor and current senator, Tim Kaine, represents the rare intersection of good politics and good governance. He increases her chance of winning the 13 electoral votes of his state, which has voted with the presidential winner in four consecutive elections and seven of the past nine. He, like she, has been an executive, so perhaps experience has inoculated him against the senatorial confusion between gestures and governing.
There probably is no Democratic governor or senator more palatable than Kaine to constitutional conservatives. Such conservatives are eager to bring presidential power back within constitutional constraints, and Kaine is among the distressingly small minority of national legislators interested in increased congressional involvement in authorizing the use of military force. And as a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, Kaine can, if their paths ever cross on the campaign trail, patiently try to help Trump decipher the acronym NATO.
In the end, everyone was happy – except for the die-hard Bernie-or-Bust folks, who will now work hard to defeat Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump, and anyone who isn’t Bernie Sanders. They’ll be very lonely. Bernie is with Hillary, as is Elizabeth, as is Michelle, as is Corey. The opening night jitters were gone.
Looking at it another way, Kevin Drum suggests the whole thing turned out to be a bit boring:
This is annoying. I feel like I ought to have something to say about tonight’s festivities, but I don’t, really. The A-listers (Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders) all gave good speeches. Bernie held nothing back, giving a full-throated endorsement of Hillary Clinton that showed him in his best light. Earlier in the day there had been some booing when Hillary’s name was mentioned, but it seemed to die out as the night wore on, and in the primetime hour that was all most people saw, it was pretty much all sweetness and light. If the object was to show off a united Democratic Party to the nation, I’d say that Team Hillary did it.
On the other side of the aisle, Donald Trump was doing his usual: doubling down on whatever he’s been criticized about recently. In this case it was NATO: “We have to walk,” Trump said. “Within two days they’re calling back! They will pay us if the right person asks. That’s the way it works, folks.” Republicans were almost universally appalled.
And so it goes:
During the Democratic speeches, Trump spent his time tweeting out his usual juvenile zingers. There’s no point in highlighting them, though. It was just the workaday Trumpiness that I suspect even his fans are starting to get bored of by now.
And that’s about it. Party unity proceeds apace among Democrats, while puerile insults continue apace in Trumpland.
That’s the next four months. You’ve been warned. Everyone is over their opening night jitters. It’s repeat performances from here on out.