Presidential Campaign

A divided party for Democrats?

This seems to be a time in the political presidential season when everything is uncertain and in great flux. Rather than comment about that, there are some things which can be said that are definable and, in my opinion, irrefutable. I’ll start off with the chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.).

{mosads}She is supposed to be neutral in the presidential race. Her role as supposed leader of the party requires her to be of that persuasion. Quite simply, she is not. Way back at the start of the nominating period, Gov. Martin O’Malley (Md.) complained about the paucity of debates and the odd choice of times and dates. Wasserman Schultz ignored O’Malley’s criticism and got away with it.

Now, major contender and challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) is making the same point. Once again, Wasserman Schultz is attempting to take the same irresponsible and unprofessional position — she seems to want the whole controversy to go away. Sanders should not let her succeed. Active and frequent debates are the heart and soul of democracy. Any effort to stifle discussion should not be allowed.

In addition, the chair of the DNC is less than effective as spokesperson for the Democratic Party. She is predictably partisan, shallow and humorless; completely devoid of charm or style. How did she ever get this important and significant job? Her counterpart at the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, is not better. Dull, colorless, functionaries going through the motions, both of them. Nobody will ever mistake these two for Larry O’Brien, Bob Strauss, Ray Bliss or Haley Barbour.

Sanders should not be underestimated; he will continue to win contests. Wisconsin coming up on April 5 is tailor-made for him. The word “progressive” was invented there. Madison in Dane County, home to the University of Wisconsin, is Sanders’s territory like no other place in the country outside Vermont. He could win there and might win big.

New York state on April 19 is also a potential place for a strong Sanders showing. Sanders doing well in a state where Hillary Clinton (D) served two terms in the U.S. Senate could prove truly embarrassing for front-runner Clinton. And then there is the big enchilada: California on June 7. This could very well remind observers of past mega-primaries (’68, Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy vs. New York Sen. Robert Kennedy; ’72, Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey vs. South Dakota Sen. George McGovern).

Sanders at the convention in Philadelphia in July is not going to go away quietly. Campaign finance, trade globalization, the minimum wage, defense spending, super-delegates, climate change, income inequality, the billionaire class, big banks — he will fight for those issues to be brought up and addressed in the party platform.

So will the speakers (including the keynoter) and of course the vice-presidential choice. Sanders’s people are rabid for him and are not going to just fade away or become “Ready for Hillary” without some large measure of respect and recognition. Expect a repeat of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1988 in Atlanta and Sen. Ted Kennedy (Mass.) in 1980 in New York. Both demanded major speaking slots at a maximum TV time and Sanders will be no different.

The last time Democrats met in Philadelphia was July 1948. Humphrey, then mayor of Minneapolis, gave his memorable “walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine” civil rights speech. The party was so divided that the Dixiecrats walked out and later nominated then-Gov. Strom Thurmond (S.C.) as their candidate. Later that month in Philadelphia, the left nominated former Vice President Henry Wallace as the candidate of the Progressive Party. (Including the Republican convention in June, there were four conventions held in Philadelphia that summer, producing four candidates.)

Since the very last thing Clinton forces want to do is to have a divided party, bet on the present front-runner being oh-so-accommodating and deferential to her estimable opponents.

I don’t think Sanders will be the nominee. He will end up supporting Clinton and campaigning for her. But he rightly believes he is leading a movement (if not a revolution), and he should be treated accordingly. The Democratic Party cannot afford a repeat of 1968, when a big part of the party stayed home in disgust and disappointment with their party’s nominee (Humphrey).

The romancing of Bernie Sanders and his supporters is job No. 1 for Hillary Clinton. She knows that, and she will do it. She must create and inspire some real passion for her candidacy. The payoff is big: not only the presidency, but control of the U.S. Senate and, believe it or not, the U.S. House. (Former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman says this is possible.) A political trifecta.

Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.

Tags Bernie Sanders Hillary Clinton

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