The divisions in the Democratic party were on full show this week as the Democratic National Convention began. Sanders supporters, many still bitter over their candidate’s loss, were incensed by the recent revelation that members of the DNC had favoured Mrs Clinton for the nomination from the outset of the primary. Evidence for this had been supplied by WikiLeaks, in a recent dump of thousands of private DNC emails. For some Sanders supporters this was more evidence that the system was ‘rigged’ against their candidate, and that Hillary Clinton had won the nomination under false pretences.
Days 1&2: An appeal for unity
Such sentiment was clear on the first day, where DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a key figure in the recent email leak, was loudly jeered when she appeared at a breakfast for Florida delegates. Later in the day the Sanders supporters would gain yet another concession from the DNC, with Mrs Schultz stepping aside in her role as DNC chairwoman. Yet despite this notable scalp, the vocal minority were not placated. As the convention officially began, the very mention of Mrs Clinton’s name lead to a chorus of boos from Sanders delegates. While the number of delegates causing the rouble was a small (the vast majority of Sanders delegates did not take part), the disorder was amplified by the fact that the more raucous delegated were inexplicably sat next to the television cameras.
However, as Michelle Obama took to the stage much of the chaos was quelled. Mrs Obama, a figure of great respect in the Democratic Party, delivered an uplifting speech that linked the historic nature of her husband’s presidency to the Mrs Clinton’s ground-breaking achievement as first female presidential nominee of a major party. The speech was lauded by almost all commentators, and reaffirmed the idea of unity in the Democratic Party.
Despite this, the biggest cheers of the night belonged to Mr Sanders, who took to the stage after Elizabeth Warren, and received almost unbroken applause for three minutes as he took to the podium. In his final speech in his ill-fated campaign for presidency, Sanders called on his supporters to support Clinton. Highlighting their similarities in terms of policy, the Vermont senator applauded Mrs Clinton’s inclusion of many of his pledges in the Democrat Platform, such as raising the minimum wage to $15. Above all else he emphasised what was at stake in this election, and drew a sharp contrast between the Democrat nominee and Donald Trump.
As the night drew to a close it seemed that tensions had relaxed a fair bit. News outlets found Michelle Obama’s stirring speech to be of greater importance than the behaviour of a few unruly delegates, and the Clinton camp will have been grateful for the shift in focus. Therefore, as the second day began the DNC knew that they had to keep up this positive coverage. In a speech made to his Californian delegates over breakfast, Bernie Sanders appeared more forceful than usual. In one notable line, he admonished the troublemakers, saying:
“It’s easy to boo, but it is harder to look your kids in the face who would be living under a Donald Trump presidency,”
The main event of the day was the roll call, in which the delegates elect the party nominee by voice vote. Due to Sanders conceding this was a largely ceremonial process, but it did highlight how despite some tensions the party was for the most part united. The cheers for Hillary drowned out the minority of delegate booing, and by a sizeable majority Mrs Clinton was chosen as the Democrat’s Nominee for President.
The headline speaker was ex-President, and husband to the new nominee, Bill Clinton. Famed for his public speaking ability, four years ago Bill had given an extremely powerful speech calling for the re-election of Barack Obama. The speech helped transform a lacklustre campaign, explaining in simple terms the achievements of Obama’s first term and the clear choice faced by voters between Mitt Romney and Obama. A grateful Obama dubbed Mr Clinton his ‘Secretary for Explaining Stuff’.
Well this week Bill had to take up this mantle once again, and explain to a divided Democratic Party why his wife was the correct choice. Unlike his previous speech, in which he explained the Obama’s achievement of economic recovery as an expert on the matter, Bill chose to give a more personal side to the Democratic Nominee. Telling the story of how he met his wife, Mr Clinton left the audience in awe with a heart wrenching, humorous and humbling account of two politicians in love. Presenting his wife as a caring persona and campaigner above all else, the speech detailed Hillary’s achievements in a uniquely personal manner.
Days 3&4: From one icon to another
The first two days of the convention were largely to unite the party, yet the final two days were aimed at convincing those outside the convention hall. Initial tensions at the convention had largely died out by the third day, when President Obama took to the stage to present his case for Mrs Clinton. What followed was a speech that many pundits have said was the best in the President’s career. Drawing on his last 8 years as President, Obama eloquently made the case for a more optimistic America. Appealing to the nation’s better nature, Obama proclaimed:
“Anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or home-grown demagogues, will always fail in the end.”
On the final day, all the eyes were on the newly proclaimed nominee Hillary Clinton as she gave her first speech as figurehead of the party. In a wide ranging speech, Mrs Clinton emphasised what she believed to be great about America. It was a sharp contrast to the Republican National Convention, in which a dismal picture of America had been painted by the convention speakers. This demonstrated a pivot by the Democrats, attempting to reclaiming the mantle of ‘American Exceptionalism’ from the Republican Party of old. However, Hillary’s speech was by no means exceptional, and most likely it will not have any great lines to be remembered. But what it did succeed in is creating a contrast between the calm, presidential manner of Clinton and the tactless Mr Trump.
As the day finished, it was clear the Democrat Convention will have done a lot to strengthen party unity. Polls already suggest that the party’s voters are less divided than the delegates, with 9 out of 10 Democrats saying they will support Clinton. With this in mind it is clear that the focus for the Democrat party should not be solely on unifying its relatively cohesive base. A much larger problem exists in Mrs Clinton’s weakness as a candidate. Recent polls put Clinton and Trump in a dead heat, something which should be inexcusable given the Republican nominee’s history of outright lies and divisive statements. So while the electoral math looks good for Clinton, both she and the DNC as a whole must not take a Trump candidacy for granted, and must fight to convince Americans that Mrs Clinton is the right choice.