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Who’s Got The Worse Convention?

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Heading into the Republican convention in Cleveland, the word used most frequently about the gathering by journalists, delegates, and hangers-on was “s—show”. The expectation was that this convention would be poorly run, the logistics of getting around and reporting would be difficult, events would be regularly disrupted by protests, and the general tenor of the whole thing would be a slapped together show run by a JV political team. But as it turned out, things went much more smoothly than anyone could have expected.

The biggest disruption was caused early in the week by RNC leadership itself in its eagerness to crush the modest demands of a group of stubborn conservatives on the rules committee; by the Trump speechwriters in copying material; and by the Trump campaign’s whipped up boos in response to Ted Cruz’s assertion that people should vote their conscience. Whatever commotion happened in Cleveland was entirely the outcome of decisions made by RNC leadership and the Trump campaign – they didn’t have to crush a voice vote, they didn’t have to be irresponsible with speeches, they didn’t have to invite Cruz to speak and then boo him instead of co-opting his message. The s—show turned out to be of their own making.

The rest of the convention went fine – the biggest problem turned out to be the same as that of most conventions: that other than the aforementioned incidents, it was dull and forgettable. The speakers mostly stuck to a strict script, and the most interesting people to go on stage ended up saying very little. Cleveland itself proved a professional and capable host, managing the small groups of protesters carefully and arresting fewer than 25 people all week. There were fewer parties and more bad moods, but otherwise things turned out better than many expected.

This week we turn our focus to what may be the actual s—show, which looks to be kicking off today in Philadelphia. The news weekend had the effect of dumping chum in the water for the stubborn progressive protesters resisting the nomination of Hillary Clinton. The day after the Republican convention concluded, Wikileaks – which some journalists still frame as noble hackers fighting for transparency, but Transom readers know as a transparent Russian FSB operation – released almost 20,000 emails acquired from hacking the Democratic National Committee. They aren’t the only hack, either – there is also Guccifer 2.0, who started rolling out what he (or what the team pretending to be a lone hacker) had obtained from DNC servers.

These emails indicate all sorts of horrible things on the part of the DNC. They show example after example of Democratic Party officials leaning on the levers of power in favor of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, including open discussion of potential lines of attack on Sanders over his religion or lack thereof. The information dump includes the Social Security and credit card numbers of many of the biggest donors to the party. They show journalists at top media organizations sending their full story drafts to party officials prior to publication. And they show the kind of petty demands made by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the controversial party chair who has been viewed as one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest advocates throughout the primary.

For their efforts, the hackers got results: Wasserman Schultz announced yesterday she would be resigning as party leader.  “After hours of private talks, Ms. Wasserman Schultz, a congresswoman from Florida, said she would step down after the convention ends—meaning she would still have to face pro-Sanders delegates when she takes on the traditional role of gaveling the opening and closing of the event. She will also speak at the convention.” Ouch.

Her temporary replacement through the election is likely to be vice chair Donna Brazile – but she’s viewed as pro-Hillary and anti-Sanders, too. Brazile replaced former vice chair Tulsi Gabbard, who resigned when she endorsed Sanders earlier in the election season.

The Wasserman Schultz resignation is an almost unthinkable occurrence given the timing of the convention and the need for strong leadership at the DNC headed into the fall in what is essentially a dead-heat in battleground states. Already there are thousands more protesters at the Democratic convention than there were all last week at the Republican convention.“For as many Sanders signs and T-shirts on display, there were just as many anti-Clinton placards. One pair of demonstrators carried signs warning “the criminal Clintons must be brought to heel.” Another group loudly denounced Clinton for picking Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate, claiming the “conservative” Kaine just confirms Clinton herself is no liberal. Two men carried a coffin labeled “DNC.” An RV making its way toward the marchers was emblazoned across the side with “Wikileaks” and “Occupy DNC.”

The city may be more used to handling these types of protests, but the possibility of violent clashes is much greater than there was in Cleveland. For all the GOP handwringing and concern about what would happen at their convention, the potential for a mess of a convention for the Democrats is high. They may make better television this week, with a much more prominent group of prime-time speakers – but off camera, the party’s troubles loom large.