Democrats planned to make this week a show of strong unity in contrast to the divisions that appeared among Republicans last week, but instead they opened their national convention Monday afternoon with their national chairwoman resigning in scandal, Bernie Sanders supporters refusing to back the nominee and a litany of embarrassing correspondence.
The upheaval stems from from nearly 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee that were hacked and released Friday by Wikileaks.
While the emails are being examined, the exchanges already reveal the DNC actively supporting Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries and even hiring young people to argue with Bernie Sanders supporters on social media. The emails also show the DNC demanding things from liberal media outlets and personalities, referring to Latino outreach as “taco bowl outreach”, belittling donors behind their backs and orchestrating anti-Trump protests.
In response, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced she would step down after the convention, but that timing got moved up after she was roundly booed by her own Florida delegation Monday morning in Philadelphia.
It’s exactly the start to the convention that the Democrats didn’t want.
“Given the cracks that appeared in the Republican convention last week, one of the things that the Democrats wanted to do in Philadelphia would be to contrast what they would say was Republican disarray with a smooth-running convention in Philadelphia,” said former Republican National Committee Deputy Chairman Frank Donatelli, who also served as political director in the Reagan administration.
“What we’ve seen is, before the convention actually begins is that that has not occurred,” he said.
Donatelli says this is a massive setback for Hillary Clinton after working feverishly to secure a Sanders endorsement and reach out to his voters.
“The Clinton folks have worked very, very hard to get the Sanders people in the tent. They finally get Sanders’ endorsement, so they thought that everything was put to bed. Low and behold, this comes up and inflames all the Sanders delegates,” said Donatelli.
Other than Wasserman Schultz falling on her sword, Democrats have tried to deflect from the scandal by blaming Russia for the hacking and that it was done to help Donald Trump.
Donatelli says damage control for the Democrats will be very difficult.
“You just don’t know what’s coming. Normally, you can try to inoculate against bad stories by leaking them yourself and explaining them and trying to get ahead of the story. You don’t know what that’s going to be right now because you don’t know what the Wikileaks people have,” said Donatelli.
Donatelli admits one benefit for Democrats might ridding itself of Wasserman Schultz at a critical time.
“You ask virtually any Democrat in the know and they will tell you the DNC has been vastly under-performing for five or six years now, the time she’s been chairman of the DNC. She’s not been an effective chairman of the DNC. The Obama folks didn’t want to fire her so they basically went around her,” said Donatelli.
But the changes at the national party level are peanuts compared to the problem the Clinton campaign now has to reach out to Sanders supporters who are so angry they booed Sanders Monday when he told his delegates to back Clinton and Kaine.
“The much bigger problem they have is the Bernie Sanders left-leaning Democrats, who were suspicious of Hillary Clinton. Now that she’s picked another moderate within the Democratic context in Tim Kaine, they’re doubly suspicious of her,” said Donatelli.
Donatelli says there should be no surprise that Republicans immediately seized on the story as a way to revive Clinton’s email and server scandal.
“If they could hack the Democratic National Committee, why couldn’t they hack her server. There is no real answer to that but it does put the issue back front and center,” said Donatelli.