Dems flirt with disaster on convention’s first day

Dems flirt with disaster on convention’s first day
© Greg Nash

PHILADELPHIA — Three of the biggest names in Democratic politics sought to get their party's national convention back on track Monday evening after it flirted with potentially disastrous disunity for much of the day.

The prime-time session saw a clear-cut statement of support for presumptive presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Clinton says Zuckerberg has 'authoritarian' views on misinformation Des Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee MORE from her main primary rival, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Des Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sanders faces lingering questions about appeal to women voters MORE (I-Vt.); an emotional and widely praised address from first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaObama portraits leaving National Portrait Gallery to tour museums across the country Billy Eichner to play Matt Drudge in Clinton-focused 'American Crime Story' Sanders v. Warren is just for insiders MORE; and a prolonged attack on GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Kaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Louise Linton, wife of Mnuchin, deletes Instagram post in support of Greta Thunberg MORE from Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDes Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sanders faces lingering questions about appeal to women voters Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial MORE (D-Mass.).

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But Sanders’s most fervent backers, who have still not accepted Clinton becoming the nominee, caused significant disruption during the previous hours. Even respected Democratic officeholders such as Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) had to cope with gusts of disapproval for merely mentioning Clinton’s name. 

The fallout caused by the leak of internal Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails that displayed favoritism for Clinton dominated the day Monday. And scattered boos and shouts of dissent were still being heard in the Wells Fargo Center during passages of Sanders’s speech, in which he paid tribute to Clinton. 

At one point, it seemed as if Democrats were as divided here as Republicans were during their national convention last week in Cleveland. 

But Sanders delivered a speech far removed from Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump, Democrats risk unintended consequences with impeachment arguments Impeachment trial to enter new phase with Trump defense Jordan says he thinks trial will be over by next week MORE’s (R) dramatic refusal to endorse Trump. And prominent speakers scheduled in the coming days, including former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonGeorge Conway: Witness missing from impeachment trial is Trump Is Donald Trump one of the smartest presidents in US history? Trump impeachment and trial: All parties should feel ashamed MORE on Tuesday, President Obama on Wednesday and Hillary Clinton herself on Thursday, could see the Democrats leave Philadelphia with momentum.

Sanders expressed his disappointment about losing the nomination and told his delegates he would look forward to their votes during the official roll call Tuesday night.

But he left no doubt that he was sticking by his earlier endorsement of Clinton, declaring that he was “proud to stand with her tonight.” He cautioned his supporters about the dangers of sitting out the election, and hailed the agreements he and the former secretary of State had reached to create “the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.”

Sanders, introduced by longtime Democratic ally Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), was met with a roaring reception when he strode to the lectern shortly before 11 p.m. The ovation went on for several minutes before he could begin his speech. As he delivered his address, TV cameras showed some supporters in tears.

Earlier in the day, Sanders sent out a text and email to supporters asking them “as a personal courtesy to me to not engage in any kind of protest on the floor” against Clinton. He added that disruptive behavior was “what the corporate media wants" and "what Donald Trump wants.”

A similar warning came, apparently unscripted, from comic Sarah Silverman.

“To the ‘Bernie or Bust’ people: You’re being ridiculous,” Silverman, herself a Sanders supporter, said to uproarious cheers during an appearance with Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenBill Press: Don't forget about Amy Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far Al Franken mocks McConnell: 'Like listening to Jeffrey Dahmer complain about the decline of dinner party etiquette' MORE (D-Minn.).

Fears of the Democratic National Convention falling into disarray began to fade with the first lady’s speech. 

Her address — which mixed personal touches, implicit yet clear jabs at Trump and deft references to America’s long history of racial inequality — electrified the crowd.

The first lady excoriated “bullies” and people who had called her husband’s “citizenship or faith” into question — both references to Trump. She also paid tribute to Clinton’s toughness but noted that when she lost the 2008 nomination battle, “she didn’t get angry or disillusioned.”

But it was the speech’s closing stages, in which Obama wavered on the edge of tears, that had some observers lauding her address as the highlight of the night.

She spoke about waking up each day “in a house that was built by slaves” and watching her daughters, “two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”

“And because of Hillary Clinton,” she added, “my daughters, and all our sons and daughters, now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States. So don’t let anyone tell you that this country isn’t great — that somehow we need to make it great again — because this, right now, is the greatest country on Earth.”

Warren couldn’t compete with that kind of emotional punch, and she didn't try.

Instead, she accused Trump of “taking advantage” of working people and articulating a vision of “an America of hate and fear.”

Warren’s speech was effective, especially on TV. In the hall, it received a more muted response. Warren endorsed Clinton for president last month, and some pro-Sanders hard-liners have not forgiven her for it. There were some hostile chants — “we trusted you” was one, according to accounts on social media — during her address.

The first lady and Sanders both put some pep in Democrats’ step as they prepare for the convention’s second day. But this is a convention on edge, too, with supporters of Clinton and Sanders continuing to eye each other warily.