After a tumultuous Republican convention last week, the images on live TV of Democrats berating their nominee was not the message of unity that their party hoped to project. Instead, there were jarring similarities between the dueling conventions: unceasing threats of floor revolts, breathless media coverage of protests and deafening cascades of boos.
Still, it should come as little surprise that the long-simmering tensions boiled over this week. Sanders for weeks refused to endorse Clinton even as the complicated delegate math showed his path to be impossible. And the hacked emails released over the weekend only reinforced the view of his supporters that the contest was rigged.
“People are disappointed. They think they’ve been treated unfairly,” said state Sen. Vincent Fort, Georgia’s most high-profile Sanders backer. “The Democratic Party is based on openness and transparency, and it’s hard for them not to feel like their freedom of speech has been restricted unfairly.”
‘Who really benefits?’
The rifts erupted despite the best efforts of Democrats to unite behind Clinton and focus their fire at Republican nominee Donald Trump. Videos playing at the Wells Fargo Center periodically featured unflattering quotes from Trump, and speaker after speaker railed against his policies, his businesses, his rhetoric and his gaffes.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has seemed to get under Trump’s skin like few others, said the Republican painted a picture of “an America of fear and hate, an America where we all break apart” that divides its citizens among racial, religious and ethnic grounds.
“But ask yourself this: When white workers in Ohio are pitted against black workers in North Carolina or Latino workers in Florida – who really benefits?”
At the same time, organizers tried to rev up a crowd still divided over Clinton’s candidacy, eager to prevent more embarrassing protests that could further undermine the message of unity. Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, taking the podium early Monday evening, said Democrats were on the cusp of a “new American majority” with Clinton at the helm.
“We are the architects of a solution to help families raise healthy children and make a living wage rather than crippling our economic future and pushing dangerous policies that deny Medicaid expansion and reproductive choice,” Abrams said. “We fight for more because that is who we are.”
Declaring “I’m with her,” first lady Michelle Obama said only Clinton has the “guts and the grace” to serve the nation.
“I trust Hillary to lead this country because I’ve seen her lifelong devotion to our nation’s children,” Obama said. “Not just her own daughter, who she has raised to perfection, but every child who needs a champion.”
The protests erupted even as Sanders tried to calm his faithful supporters. After months of railing against a “rigged” political system and promising a political revolution, the droves of younger and more liberal supporters that Sanders inspired proved difficult for even him or his top deputies to rein in.
“I stand here in support of Hillary Clinton on behalf of our future and in recognition of our proud past,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, one of the most prominent Sanders supporters, as some in the crowd yelled “No!”
And Symone Sanders, a former top Sanders aide, wrote on Twitter that she understood why his voters had “qualms” about backing Clinton. “But a stolen election is not one. I worked there,” she wrote. “No one stole the election from us.”
But the most stirring example unfolded when comedian Sarah Silverman, standing on stage with Minnesota U.S. Sen. Al Franken, leaned into the microphone after she pledged to support Clinton.
“Can I just say, to the Bernie or bust people, you’re being ridiculous,” Silverman said.
Then, a burst of applause came from some quarters and chants of “Bernie! Bernie!” from others.
A Peach State divide
Georgia Democrats face the same split, though its more muted than in other states where Sanders had more support. Clinton won the state by nearly three-quarters of the vote, giving Sanders supporters only a small bloc of delegate slots.
At the state delegation’s opening breakfast Monday, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson blamed the release of the emails on Russian hackers — and was quickly interrupted by a voice from the other side of the room.
“No sir,” interjected Rick Day, a Sanders delegate from Ellijay. “They wrote those emails.”
Other pro-Sanders Georgians tried to unite the room. State Rep. LaDawn Jones of Atlanta, one of a handful of elected officials who endorsed the Vermont senator, challenged his erstwhile allies to "show respect."
“It is going to be the respect that we have that is going to make sure that Donald Trump does not make it to the White House,” she said.
New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker appealed to the same sense of party during an address that drew mostly applause — but a few jeers — as he urged partisans to line up behind their nominee or risk a Trump in the White House.
“We stand up to bullies and we fight those who seek to demean or degrade other Americans,” Booker said. “And in times of crisis, we don’t abandon our values — we double down on them.”