Democrats confront dangerous divisions within party

By James Hohmann analysis

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders greets supporters in Carson, California. Photo / AP
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders greets supporters in Carson, California. Photo / AP

The awkward embrace between Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Party may be nearing a breaking point.

Leading Democrats are increasingly voicing their concerns about Sanders' continued candidacy, and if he and his supporters ultimately will unite behind Hillary Clinton for her general election battle against Donald Trump.

For his part, Sanders has sharpened his critique of the party. He says it would be "sad and tragic" if Democrats don't change and stop relying on big money. He is assailing Clinton for her dependence on wealthy donors.

Clinton backers grumble that such comments can help Republicans, belying Sanders' claims that he'll work tirelessly to ensure Trump doesn't end up in the White House.

Sanders won Wednesday's Democratic primary in Oregon by 8 points, and Clinton has declared victory in Kentucky.

AP says the Bluegrass State remains too close to call. The front-runner leads by about 2000 votes out of half a million cast, less than one-half of 1 per cent. Asked whether Sanders would consider seeking a recount, spokesman Michael Briggs emails that the campaign will "take a closer look at the numbers . . . and make a decision" later today. A Clinton victory would end Sanders's mini winning streak.

Sanders pulled no punches as he celebrated the returns in California. He blamed his losses on closed primaries and called on the Democratic Party to "open the doors" and "let the people in".

The comments came after Nevada's Democratic Party filed a formal complaint accusing Sanders of inciting "actual violence" among his supporters at last weekend's state convention.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, called the convention fracas a "test of leadership". Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, told CNN that Sanders' response to the chaos has been "anything but acceptable".

The Vermont Senator dismissed the claims as "nonsense," detailing grievances about how Nevada and other states have handled their delegate selection processes. "At that convention, the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place," Sanders said, casting the episode as just the latest example of the national party trying to silence the grassroots.

There are growing fears that the July convention in Philadelphia could be chaotic, perhaps even violent.

Sanders is quickly becoming a figure every bit as divisive and polarising among Senate Democrats as Ted Cruz is in the eyes of his Republican colleagues. He may not have forced a government shutdown, but his obstinacy may yet imperil Clinton. His defiance is burning bridges, which will make it harder for him to be an effective member of the Senate going forward.

We've reached another pivot point in the race. The row at the convention has been a wake-up call for many liberal commentators, who have viewed Bernie positively because of his success at pulling Hillary to the left. But a new mindset has begun to take hold: If Trump becomes president, Sanders will deserve a big share of the blame. Take this sampling of commentary:

The New Republic's Dana Houle:

"It is Sanders's prerogative to remain in the race. But exercising that prerogative makes it easier for mega-wealthy conservatives to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to lethally bludgeon both Clinton's candidacy and the progressive agenda to which Sanders has devoted his career. This is not solely about combating the grave threat of a Trump presidency. It is also about the potential of a Democratic landslide and the progressive achievements that could follow, which is an opportunity too rare and precious to squander.. . . The best way for Sanders to advance the progressive cause is to end his campaign and unabashedly ask his supporters to join him in helping to elect Clinton."

Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall:

"Sanders is telling his supporters that he can still win, which he can't. He's suggesting that the win is being stolen by a corrupt establishment, an impression which will be validated when his phony prediction turns out not to be true. Lying like this sets you up for stuff like happened over the weekend in Nevada."

Mother Jones's Kevin Drum:

"Before this campaign, [Sanders] was a gadfly, he was a critic of the system, and he was a man of strong principles. He still is, but he's also obviously very, very bitter . .. By all objective measures he did way better than anyone expected and had far more influence than anyone thought he would, and he should feel good about that. Instead, he seems more angry and resentful with every passing day."

The Atlantic's Clare Foran:

"As the Sanders campaign presses forward, it must carefully consider whether the senator's ambition for a political revolution is a goal best achieved by actively stoking the anger of his supporters - and, in a sense, encouraging them to tear it all down."

Vox's Jeff Stein:

"Sanders needed to win Kentucky to maintain an increasingly far-fetched path to the Democratic nomination. The fact that he lost - albeit by what appears to have been a very small margin - will only dramatically increase the calls for him to exit the race."

A number of top Sanders staffers have left the campaign in recent days, including his director of technology and three out of four members of his original California leadership team, Politico reports. The new departures come just a few weeks after Sanders let hundreds of field staffers go in an effort to slash costs.

A Sanders superdelegate flipped his allegiance to Clinton, per Bloomberg. Emmett Hansen, Democratic National Committee member for the US Virgin Islands, shifted his support. "There are no more windmills to joust against and no more mountains to climb," he said.

The mainstream coverage is overwhelmingly negative. "He lost," writes Jon Ralston, the dean of the Nevada press corps. "And the reaction to the vanquishing was akin to the petulant mewling of a baby who had been pampered until the moment he first was told no, wailing with no purpose other than to be loud. And just like an infant, the Sanders folks wanted it to be all about them.. . . I seriously doubt he can put out the fire he has set."

"Sanders doesn't seem very interested just now in preserving goodwill he's built up within Democratic Party after losing nomination," writes the New York Times' John Harwood.

"Clinton is now 96 per cent of the way to reaching the 2383 delegates needed for the Dem nomination. 94 delegates short," notes the AP's Ken Thomas.

- Washington Post, AP

- Washington Post

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