The first day of the Democratic National Convention culminated in Sen. Bernie Sanders’ forceful endorsement of presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton. The prime-time audience saw a compelling Michelle Obama address, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) preceding Sanders. For Clinton, it could not have gone better on a day that began with polls showing Republican nominee Donald Trump surging to a small lead after the Republican convention, and then careened into Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s self-immolation.
Five observations from the convention’s first day:
1. Sanders supporters are still on fire. On the streets in Philadelphia, they held demonstrations and mini-marches. In Sanders’ afternoon meeting with them, they flooded the convention center, overwhelming the room. They roared when Sanders pledged to continue the political revolution and booed at every mention of Hillary Clinton’s name. A largely good-natured gaggle greeted the convention’s delegates behind makeshift fences with chants and Sanders’ signs. Boos greeted the opening prayer of the convention when the minister oddly invoked Hillary Clinton’s name. A small but loud group of Sanders delegates booed and chanted each time her name was mentioned for much of the night. All this despite texts from Sanders urging good behavior.
2. La lucha continua. Sanders delighted his followers by committing clearly to continue the “political revolution.” In the afternoon gathering, Sanders repeated his plans to launch a political organization — Our Revolution — that will recruit, train and elect candidates up and down the ticket, from school boards to the U.S. Senate. He pledged to mobilize his supporters to fight for the platform that he put forward, and to build an institute to do education and training. Sanders summarized the progress that had been made, most importantly, in winning the youth vote by overwhelming margins, those who will set the agenda for the future. He noted that his supporters now had taken over the Democratic Party in five states, and are moving reform of the party in many more.
In his address to the convention, Sanders made it clear that the campaign was only the beginning: “Together, my friends, we have begun a political revolution to transform America and that revolution — our revolution — continues. Election days come and go. But the struggle of the people to create a government which represents all of us and not just the 1 percent — a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice — that struggle continues. And I look forward to being part of that struggle with you.”
3. The platform matters. Sanders, Ellison, Warren all drilled down on what they celebrated as the “most progressive platform in Democratic Party history.” The platform incorporates many of the concessions that Clinton made to Sanders in the course of the campaign and in the platform proceedings. These include a commitment to break up the big banks, to pass a 21st century Glass Steagall act, a $15 minimum wage, extending Social Security, tuition-free college, building a public option in health care reform more than doubling community health centers and much more. Sanders, Ellison and Warren each invoked major planks of the platform as pledges that Clinton understands and will fight for.
They began the process of wedding Clinton to her platform promises. And they also demonstrated how the Sanders supporters and volunteers will hold Democrats generally and the presidential nominee in particular to the platforms promises. Democratic office holders would be well advised to read the document closely.
4. The Glaring Omission: War, Peace and the World. Remarkably, there was virtually no mention of our global policies outside of climate change and trade from Sanders or any of the first night’s speakers. The silence reflected stark differences, not consensus. Here the gulf between Clinton’s interventionist temper and the majority of Democrats is the greatest. Here the effort to gain progress in the platform had the least success.
5. The limits of endorsement. Clinton could not ask for a better first night. It kick-starts a convention that barring more self-made fiascos will return her to a strong lead in post-convention polling. Sanders forcefully made the case that defeating Donald Trump was the essential next task of his political movement.
But endorsements and convention bounces don’t guarantee victories. Sanders can’t deliver his supporters or guarantee their enthusiasm. Only Hillary Clinton can overcome the doubts, capture the hopes and gain the trust. Sanders voters were roused by his vision, his agenda and his integrity. Clinton’s task is to make herself the forceful advocate for bold change, one clear and strong enough to overcome doubts about her commitment, concern about her compromises, discomfort with her money politics. Trump’s vile excesses will clearly help Sanders mobilize his voters for Clinton, but only she can gain their trust and capture their energy. The days ahead will reveal whether she can and wants to do just that.