"We can't let her speak. She should not be allowed to speak," one #BernieOrBust delegate told me the morning of Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech, refusing to accept the legitimacy of Clinton's nomination for president by the Democratic Party. He was part of a hardcore minority within the Bernie Sanders delegation to the Democratic National Convention that felt betrayed by its leader. "He promised us we'd fight at the convention. We came here expecting an open convention. Instead, he sold us out. He no longer has the moral authority to tell us what to do."
These delegates, perhaps two hundred out of Sanders' almost two thousand in Philadelphia, might have been surprised, even outraged, to learn that Bernie Sanders was actually working closely with Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia to keep them from derailing the convention.
Conversations with more than a dozen delegates, floor whips and officials from the Clinton campaign, the Sanders campaign and the Democratic National Committee reveal just how they did it.
Most importantly, the Clinton campaign, not convention organizers, controlled the floor of the DNC. The yellow-vested floor whips told Clinton delegates where to sit, what signs to hold, what chants and cheers to yell and when to yell them. They seated delegations strategically, at first trying to dilute the strength of the Sanders delegates by splitting them up, then by surrounding them and keeping them as far back from the stage as possible. As in Cleveland at the RNC, the California delegation was the largest, and the loudest. In Cleveland, the Californians were all Trump delegates, so the Golden State crew was seated near the stage, where they could present a united front on television and shout down any dissidents supporting Ted Cruz, or any other challenge to Donald Trump. That worked to a T, as the Californians relished their role and overwhelmed all opposition.
But in Philadelphia, the California delegation consisted of 330 Clinton delegates and 221 Sanders supporters. So instead of a choice spot on the floor, the Californians were exiled to Section 105, one level up, far stage right, in a corner. Clinton's delegates arrived early each day and reserved all the seats closest to the floor, sometimes filling them with non-delegates to force the Sanders team to the rear of the section, where they would not be seen on television and would be less likely to be heard.
Sanders merged his campaign operation with Clinton's. There were no Sanders whips on the floor. The floor captains wore headsets, receiving radio instructions from the "boiler room," where senior operatives from the combined campaigns told them how to thwart any insurrections by the Sanders diehards. They were given a list of the chants the Sanders delegates might use, in advance, and had a corresponding list of counter-chants. So when TV viewers heard loud chants of "Hillary" at seemingly random moments, it was to drown out chants of "No TPP" started by some of the California Sanders delegates. When they heard "USA" break out at inexplicable times—a chant heard more often in the past at Republican conventions than Democratic ones—it was to cover chants of "No More War" coming from Section 105. When Sanders delegates stood up with homemade signs denouncing Clinton, or tried to wave the "LIAR" signs they'd made from the "HILLARY" ones handed out in the hall, Clinton delegates stood up with giant banners, designed to look homemade, but really, stashed ahead of time by the campaign, like this one:
California Sanders delegates doctoring signs in protest
The Sanders delegates also claim the Clinton campaign or the DNC installed white noise machines above certain sections to drown out any anti-Clinton chanting.
In the end, Clinton won. Yes, some delegates walked out, some turned their backs, many chanted, but for the tens of millions watching at home and around the world, that revolution was not televised. The #NeverHillary Sanders folks who were sitting front and center, in the New York and Florida delegations, stood up and waved signs and chanted, but never rushed the stage, as the Secret Service had heard they might. They wouldn't have gotten anywhere near Hillary Clinton, but the sight of the party's nominee being hustled off the stage while security forces subdued on onslaught of delegates would have doomed any hope the Democrats had of presenting an image of unity to the nation.
The upstart Sanders renegades had whips of their own, instructing their members when to chant, how to assert themselves and demand seats that were supposed to be held only for delegates, distributing fluorescent yellow-green "Enough Is Enough" shirts to wear on the convention's final night. But there weren't enough of them committed to disrupting Clinton to overcome the cards stacked against them. I was on the convention floor interviewing Donna Brazile, named interim chair of the DNC after Debbie Wasserman Schultz's email-induced fall from grace, when Jeff Weaver, campaign manager for Bernie Sanders, happened by. "Excuse me," Brazile said, interrupting our interview. "There's my brother Jeff Weaver. I need to tell him how much I love him." Brazile proceeded to hug and laugh with Weaver, whisper in his ear and tell him how much she looked forward to working with him. It was more than just a public display of unity. While Sanders' most determined delegates felt betrayed and deceived by the Democratic National Committee, the man running their hero's campaign was already in cahoots with it. The Sanders brain trust turned over its intelligence on those resisting his endorsement of Clinton, so that Clinton's convention managers would know what to expect, and how to prepare. The combined operation even had spies within the rebel group.
DNC interim chair Donna Brazile with Sanders campaign boss Jeff Weaver on the convention floor
"This is like something out of 'House of Cards,'" one irate Sanders delegate from California told me. "These people are cheating. The whole system is rigged."
"They're roughing us up," another Sanders delegate, Henry Huerta of Los Angeles said. "They're shutting us out, trying to silence us."
"It's called politics," a California Clinton delegate responded. She asked me not to use her name. "This is how the game is played at this level. We're not doing anything they wouldn't do, if they knew how. They're just new to the sport. We're better at it than they are."