Thousands of party delegates and and power brokers are converging on Philadelphia this week for the Democratic National Convention, in what was supposed to be a week-long televised infomercial for the historic candidacy of Hillary Clinton. But before official events have gotten underway, Bernie Sanders activists are out in force, and they're making one thing crystal clear: Donald Trump may be scary, but Sanders is still here, and his fans are still mad as hell.
And so Democrats hoping that their national gathering would strike a contrast to a Republican convention marked by tension and doomsday rhetoric have so far been disappointed. Hordes of activists poured onto streets in sweltering heat Sunday and again Monday to protest Clinton's positions on everything from climate change to the TransPacific Partnership, and in particular, her stance toward cracking down on Wall Street banks. "Bernie or Bust" signs are everywhere in downtown Philadelphia; meanwhile, Clinton's supporters, if they're out here, have been keeping a pretty low profile.
It doesn't help that the old primary divisions were ripped open at the worst possible moment this weekend by leaked internal party emails, which show staff members of the Democratic National Committee expressing open hostility toward the Sanders campaign. The controversy has already forced Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to announce that she would resign from her post as party chairwoman at the end of the convention, but not before she was aggressively heckled at a breakfast for the Florida state delegation Monday morning. The news that Wasserman Schultz had been awarded a gig on the Clinton campaign just added more salt to the wound.
"It made a lot of people come out who weren't going to come out before," said Danielle Garda, a steel worker from Detroit who backs Sanders and is still holding out the faintest of hope that her guy could win the nomination when delegates vote this week. "Superdelegates could switch sides when they see she's [Clinton is] going to crash and burn. Why pick the woman who does nothing but lie, and keeps getting caught in lies?"
Of course, the fact is that Clinton really does have the nomination locked up, and has for some time. In a recent speech endorsing his primary rival, Sanders went so far as to urge his supporters to get onboard with Clinton's White House bid—a message he is expected to repeat when he addresses the convention Monday night.
Party officials are also hoping that the marquee line-up of other convention speeches—including President Barack Obama and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren—will help unify the party, rallying Democrats around the common goal of defeating Donald Trump. And it helps that Sanders's campaign did manage to push the Democratic Party platform to the left on a number of issues—an accomplishment that will be highlighted when the full convention votes on the platform language Monday night.
The big question, though, is whether anyone who doesn't already support Clinton is still listening—or if those voters will be distracted by the overwhelming sense that the Democratic Party is in disarray.
Making matters more complicated for Democrats is the fact that Trump appears to be enjoying what talking head-types refer to as a "convention bounce"—a spike in the polls following his nomination as the Republican presidential candidate last week. As of Monday, he is now leading Clinton in three national surveys, and Democrats—notorious for wringing their hands at every shift in FiveThirtyEight probability numbers—are likely starting to lose their cool.
Among the activists swarming the streets of downtown Philadelphia, there doesn't seem to be a lot of concern about the possibility of a Trump presidency—or at least, not enough concern to force them into Clinton's camp. As they marched near the city hall Monday, demonstrators I spoke to said they planned on sticking around for the duration of the convention—and no one seemed willing to even consider the possibility of getting behind the former secretary of state. Even Sanders felt the wrath of his own fans Monday, when he was booed for telling supporters that "we have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine."
"The glimmer of hope is that the superdelegates get their shit together and actually nominate the one candidate who can defeat the Big Bad Wolf who Trump supposedly is," said Ryan Schappell, a chemical worker from Baltimore who I spoke to in Philadelphia.
So for now, at least, the split appears to be real, the populist anger withering, and the rage at Clinton and her supporters inside the party apparatus enduring.
"I don't think I've experienced a presidential campaign like this one," Brad Miller, a former Democratic congressman from North Carolina, told me. "Or at least not since 1968, when I was a child. There's a real split in the Democratic Party."
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