The Democrats’ “Come Together and Fight Back” tour was supposed to settle differences between the establishment wing of the party and Bernie Sanders supporters, still pointing fingers over their party’s Electoral College defeat in November. But as Claire Cummings, leader of the Maine Young Democrats found out, that’s not going to be as easy as it sounds.
“Something compelled you to find the space and time to be here, and I want you to ask yourself what that reason is,” she asked the crowd at the Portland tour stop Monday night.
“Bernie!” the crowd chanted.
She pressed on: “Maybe you came, though, because you’re curious about the new DNC chairman [Tom Perez] and the future of—”
“Booooooooo!” replied the crowd.
So much for the “come together” part of the tour slogan.
Senator Bernie Sanders and the Democratic National Committee Chairman are barnstorming nine purple and red states to, according to their joint press release, “begin the process of creating a Democratic Party which is strong and active in all 50 states.”
But the rancor both onstage and in the crowds indicate the party cannot simply paper over the internal divisions exposed during the Democratic primary battle last year between Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
Perez, who beat out Sanders-backed Keith Ellison in the DNC’s February election, has already been booed at multiple stops so far this week.
On the second night of the tour, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes asked Perez in a joint interview with Sanders if the party supports a single-payer Medicare for All health care system that Sanders supports and is reintroducing in the Senate in a few weeks. Perez deflected.
In the same interview, Sanders said that they had to “have the guts to point the finger at the ruling class of this country — the billionaire class and Wall Street — and say, ‘You know what, your greed is destroying this country.’”
Hayes asked whether Perez saw the world the same way. “Listen, when we put hope on the ballot, Chris, we win,” Perez said, dodging again.
Are you a Democrat, Hayes asked Sanders, who was sitting next to Perez.
“No, I’m an independent,” he replied.
On the unity tour’s third day, Sanders thanked Perez for his remarks and boos came from the Miami crowd. In his speech, Sanders had as much criticism for the Democratic Party as he did for President Trump, saying, “Donald Trump did not win the election; the Democrats lost the election.” Sanders called on the crowd to help him in “rebuilding the Democratic Party, making it a grassroots party — a party from the bottom on up!”
The divisions exposed by the unity tour— which hits Salt Lake City on Friday and Mesa, Arizona, and Las Vegas on Saturday — go well beyond personality differences of Perez and Sanders and speak to a fundamental disagreement over the direction of the party. Sanders and many of his supporters believe that they must “radically transform the Democratic Party,” as Sanders put it in Portland earlier this week and embrace a much more economically populist message and policy agenda.
Many members of the Obama-Clinton wing of the party don’t believe such an overhaul is necessary. Clinton earned nearly 3 million more votes than Trump and Democrats gained seats in both houses of Congress even in the midst of Russian meddling and the FBI rekindling its email investigation right before Election Day, they point out.
Brian Fallon, Clinton’s former spokesman and senior adviser to the Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA, said this week that Democrats’ path to retaking the House of Representatives in 2018 is through middle-class suburbs where Clinton beat out Trump last fall. “One trend we did see in 2016 was that concern about Trump’s temperament and fitness to be president of the United States enabled the Democrat to peel off a lot of Republican-leaning voters in suburban districts,” Fallon told Vox. In a tweet, he said this road to victory “runs through the Panera Breads of America.”
Claire Sandberg, Sanders’ former digital organizing director (who recently co-founded the hybrid PAC We Will Replace You focusing on progressive challenges to moderate Democrats), told VICE News that she strongly disagreed with that sentiment. “The Establishment is like a doomsday cult; no matter how thoroughly their predictions fail to be refuted by reality, they just dig in deeper in their incoherent worldview, with devastating consequences for the rest of us,” she wrote in an email.
“The strategy of courting wealthy, older ,white suburbanites while taking voters of color and progressives for granted, and writing off all rural whites entirely, has failed — full stop. Anyone still espousing this failed strategy — or the neoliberal ideology that undergirds it — should not be in charge of anything again.”
Let the healing begin.