Early in the first day of its 2016 convention, the Democratic Party’s train threatened to jump the tracks. As the convention was gaveled into session, delegates for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., loudly booed Rules Committee chair Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and other speakers. Coming on the heels of the acrimonious exit of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz over hacked emails that showed DNC officials’ animosity toward Sanders, things could easily have taken a turn for the worse.
But the train stayed on the rails, thanks largely to a deep bench of the sort that the Republicans were unable to muster last week in Philadelphia.
A week ago, the most Donald Trump and company could offer to viewers their first evening were Melania Trump, a single U.S. senator and several Trump advisers. Monday night, Democrats rolled out not just current First Lady Michelle Obama, but a half-dozen senators and other elected officials representing multiple wings of the party, including progressive heroes in Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
The presence of these heavy hitters on the stage sent a powerful message to the attendees skeptical of Hillary Clinton, and held their attention when perhaps lesser lights would have been unable to. What were loud boos when the day began quickly became more and more scattered.
By the time Obama, Warren and Sanders spoke, interruptions were either shushed or quickly petered out on their own. Obama gave the best speech of the evening – her line “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves” will be tough to top the rest of the week – and she and Sanders both made powerful cases that the stakes in the general election are too high for disappointed progressives to reject voting for Clinton in November. Sanders also smartly reminded his supporters of the tangible results of their success, including the most progressive platform in the party’s history and Clinton adopting part of his plan on higher education.
The stark contrast in speakers at the two conventions is telling: Only one party is united. Only one party had large numbers of its elected officials and past luminaries stay away. Yes, a small minority booed Clinton’s name, but the more important fact is that her name was mentioned: At the Democratic convention, speakers are actually making a case for their party’s nominee – unlike the GOP confab in Cleveland.
There has been a lot of talk in the past few days about a split Democratic Party. But the fact is that 90 percent of voters who backed Sanders during the primary now back Clinton. (Speaking of holdouts: While the floor and the upper levels of the convention cheered Sanders when he came out, many in the donor suites refused to clap for him until he endorsed Clinton.) As Sanders said in an email to his delegates Monday, a divided Democratic Party is “what Donald Trump wants.” The Republican nominee is going to be deeply disappointed.