Sanders Backers Say DNC Leak Won’t Unravel Party Unity Bid — Protesters Say Otherwise
There’s division about whether the suspected Russian hack that’s forced out the DNC chair will impact the Democrats ultimately coming together behind Clinton.
PHILADELPHIA — And Democrats said the Republican convention in Cleveland was the divisive one.
Supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders erupted in a chorus of boos and “No!”s on Monday when the Democratic primary runner-up urged his delegates to get behind nominee Hillary Clinton and work together to defeat Donald Trump, the latest in a seemingly unprecedented string of crises ahead of an American presidential convention — and a particularly ironic one for the Democrats’ intended theme of “Stronger Together” in Philadelphia.
Key Sanders backers say the release of 20,000 DNC emails on Friday — believed to have been leaked by Russian hackers to influence the 2016 election — won’t ultimately prevent supporters from voting for Clinton, though the dump shows active plotting against their candidate. But Sanders delegates and protesters here in Philadelphia are screaming otherwise.
“Immediately, right now, we have got to defeat Donald Trump,” Sanders told his delegates, gathered in a large ballroom a few miles from the stadium where he’ll give a keynote address Monday night. “And we have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.”
The crowd erupted as Sanders continued, “Brothers and sisters, this is the real world that we live in.”
That world has been shaken after Wikileaks dumped the DNC emails. Just as Sanders addressed his delegates, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told the Orlando Sun Sentinel she would not be opening the four-day convention Monday afternoon. The Florida congresswoman had already announced Sunday that she’d step down after a few ceremonial convention duties.
The DNC and independent analysts have traced the email dump to hackers with ties to Moscow and the apparent intention of doing exactly what has occurred in the days since: Rip open continued divisions in the Democratic Party at the expense of Clinton and the advantage of Trump, the Republican nominee whose campaign — and business ties — have been friendly toward Russia.
That has done little to dissuade the protesters here in Philadelphia, or swirling plans from delegates to launch a fight on the floor of the convention hall later this week to register their continued opposition to both Clinton and the DNC leadership that they feel has unfairly tipped the scales for her all along.
Jim Zogby, one of Sanders’s main foreign policy advisors, compared the DNC’s focus on the Russian role in the leak to robbing a bank and blaming the guy who turned you in.
“It’s a pattern of behavior, ‘I didn’t do it, they told on me,’” he told Foreign Policy outside the ballroom amid a sea of Sanders supporters.
The president of the Arab American Institute came to Philadelphia as a superdelegate and member of the convention’s platform drafting committee. He has been a member of the DNC for years, but said supporters aren’t ready to transition behind Clinton.
“These are not establishment Democrats,” he said, “I don’t know what it will take.”
Given Sanders and Clinton clearly disagreed on many issues that motivated many of the Vermont senators’ avid supporters, “they’re not making the leap from that to now defeating Donald Trump,” he said.
Justin Molito was one of those voices joining in in the ballroom Monday. Wearing his green Robin Hood-style cap identifying him as a Sanders delegate, the Connecticut labor organizer said Clinton’s neoconservative track record on foreign policy — not the email scandal — is what has made it difficult for Sanders supporters to get on board now.
“It’s convenient to blame the Russians, but it’s not 1985,” he told Foreign Policy. “Whether it’s leaked or not, it’s the content of the emails, and more important, it’s the content of her foreign policy, which has led to disaster in the Middle East.”
Jose Navarrete, a student and part-time police cadet who came to Philadelphia as a Sanders delegate from San Fernando Valley, Calif., says he’s going to write in a third-party candidate in November.
Wasserman Schultz stepping down is not enough, he said.
“If they really win over Sanders supporters, they have to really reform the Democratic Party,” he said.
“Why does it take a foreign power to open our eyes?”he continued. “It’s sad it had to be the Russians to be the one who told us what was really going on.”
But Joseph Cirincione, another of Sanders’s foreign policy team, said he was shocked by supporters’ behavior toward their original candidate, telling Foreign Policy he has never seen Sanders heckled before.
Still, Cirincione predicted the protesters in Philadelphia are a vocal but small minority that doesn’t represent the majority who will eventually rally behind the former secretary of state — even before she gives her primetime address on Thursday.
Their focus on the DNC leak, rather than the troubling allegations that Russian-backed hackers may have hacked them, is misplaced, he said.
“This is unprecedented — you have to go back to France in the beginning of the 1800s to see a foreign power meddling this blatantly in a presidential election,” he said. “It should send alarm bells ringing for everyone about what the Russians want and what electing Trump would mean.”
Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images