PHILADELPHIA – If you watched the final night of the Democratic Convention on television at home or at a watch party, it might have seemed like everything went pretty well for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. She gave a decent speech, hit all the points she need to hit, there were some strong speeches earlier in the night, and despite some disruptions from protesters earlier in the week the convention ended up being more or less the media spectacle party officials hoped it would be.
But not everything was quite as it seemed. Inside the convention hall, hundreds of Bernie Sanders delegates wearing florescent yellow T-shirts and seated in small clusters within their state sections kept causing trouble.
During a speech by General John Allen—who was the first to mention ISIS or terrorism—they began chanting, “No more war!” But it was quickly drowned out by vastly superior numbers of Hillary supporters chanting, “U-S-A!” After Allen’s speech, retired U.S. Army Captain (and Medal of Honor recipient) Florent Groberg spoke, and again, cries of “No more war!” rose up in scattered pockets only to be suppressed by chants of “U-S-A!”
This game went on all night. When Hillary took the stage, the clusters of florescent-clad Sanders delegates defiantly held aloft their Bernie signs and generally abstained from clapping at Clinton’s applause lines. When Clinton thanked Sanders and said to his supporters, “I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause,” they started in with chants of, “Ber-nee! Ber-nee!”—as they’d been doing all week.
When Clinton at last came to the issue of ISIS and terrorism, they again took up chanting “No more war!” This time, they were silenced by counter-chants of “Hil-la-ree! Hil-la-ree!” But between the chanting and the random lone shouts of “Liar!” at quiet moments in her speech, it was clear that a very passionate minority of delegates were not going to let the moment pass without registering their dissent.
The DNC’s Grand Theme Was Contradiction
The problem for Democrats on what was supposed to be—and perhaps was, despite the disruptions—an historic night, the nomination of the first woman for president, is that their messaging is totally contradictory. That’s really been the great theme of the DNC this year: contradiction and doublespeak.
“America is stronger because of President Obama’s leadership,” Clinton said, and yet “powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart,” and our “bonds of trust and respect are fraying.” She praised President Obama and Vice President Biden for saving us from economic collapse, creating millions of new jobs, giving millions of people health insurance, saving the auto industry and making it stronger than ever before. “That’s real progress,” she said—but “none of us can be satisfied with the status quo. Some of you are frustrated, even furious. And you know what? You’re right.”
Bu why would anyone be furious after all that progress under Obama?
The Democrats are trying to do the impossible. They have to mollify their base, which has become a fever swamp of left-wing progressivism—and increasingly militant. But they also have to reach out to traditional working-class Democratic voters, who appear to be flocking to Donald Trump en masse. The problem is, it’s very difficult for the party to hide where its priorities now lie, or that they’ve shifted radically to the Left under Obama.
At times, the rhetoric aimed at traditional Dems is completely divorced from the party’s official platform. For example, at one point they showed an emotional video about how we need Clinton for the sake of our children. It began with a father speaking into the camera, recording a video message for his unborn child. He said something like, “I can’t wait to meet you.”
Under normal circumstances, that might be fine. But the DNC this week adopted an extreme policy on abortion. The official party platform now calls for a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for abortions. The party’s position used to be that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare,” but not anymore. Now all American taxpayers should be forced to fund it through programs like Medicaid.
So DNC videos in which a father says to his unborn child, “I can’t wait to meet you,” are now awkward in a way they weren’t before. But that’s just one example of the schizophrenia plaguing the party. Another was the tepid response Clinton got when she mentioned defeating ISIS and working with our allies abroad for a safer world. The New Democrats just aren’t interested in that.
Indeed, the big takeaway from the DNC this week is that Democratic leaders can’t decide if they’re going to be the party of Clinton or Sanders, even though the winds of change are clearly blowing leftward. Democratic superdelegates might have secured the nomination for Clinton, but the full-throated liberal populism of Sanders and Elizabeth Warren is where the party’s future lies.
Democrats Know They’re Losing Working-Class Voters
It was obvious that on this final night the DNC wanted to appeal to the voters it knows it’s losing. They trotted out soldiers, veterans, and some Republican guy who said Trump is no Ronald Reagan, which actually drew applause—for Reagan. It was odd. Clinton tried her best to appeal to the working class, the heartland, the Rust Belt—all the voters Trump is winning in record numbers by appealing to their resentment and frustration.
But Clinton wants it both ways. She denounced Trump’s pessimism, saying, “He’s taken the Republican Party a long way from ‘morning in America,’ to midnight in America,” referencing the famous line from Reagan’s 1984 campaign ad.
But her appeals to “join us” were followed by a litany of liberal policies—trade protectionism, minimum wage increases, cracking down on corporate profits and the “super rich,” equal pay for women, student debt forgiveness. It was a list of Sanders talking points, none of which were much of an appeal to moderates or independents—and certainly not to Republicans who don’t want to vote for Trump.