Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why The Revolution Was Not Televised

The rumors crackled across the convention floor like a smoldering wildfire: "They're going to turn their backs on Hillary Clinton. They're going to walk out. They're going to throw toilet paper at her. They're going to rush the stage."

"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."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Night And Day

Thoughts on what lies ahead
Somewhere over Kansas

I’m winging my way to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, after covering the Republicans’ confab in Cleveland last week (apologies for not blogging from the RNC, but the California delegation’s distant accommodations in Sandusky, Ohio added two hours of driving to my already overstuffed days and too-short nights there, and the need for sleep trumped posting to the blog. I’ll make up for it with far too many words here).

The RNC was the most off-kilter political convention I’ve ever covered, marred by Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech, the open political warfare on the floor between the Ted Cruz delegates and the Donald Trump campaign, a bizarre and oddly programmed hodgepodge of motley speakers, and finally, the longest acceptance speech in American history, Trump’s 76-minute recitation of the doom and gloom that, in his eyes, has rendered America no longer great.

Debbie Wasserman Shultz, the Miami Congresswoman who chairs the Democratic National Committee, buzzed about the periphery of the RNC like a mosquito waiting to suck blood and raise welts. She talked to any and all comers about what a mess the convention was, and how her party was unified in its fight against Trump’s divided GOP, even ribbing her Republican counterpart, Reince Priebus, reminding him via Twitter that she was in town and available to show him how to run a smoother operation.

Well, as I write this, the Democrats are embroiled in pre-convention controversy of their own, and it turns out it isn’t always sunny in Philadelphia, after all. Friday, Wikileaks released thousands of hacked DNC emails—perhaps stolen by Russians trying to help Trump win the presidency, in return for policies more favorable to the Kremlin—that include embarrassing evidence that Shultz and other party higher-ups were indeed trying to sabotage the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders and ensure the nomination of Hillary Clinton (and Shultz trying to score tickets to “Hamilton” - DNC communications chief Luis Miranda is the father of Broadway wunderkind Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s reassuring to know that clout has its limits). As the leaked emails broke, the furious pro-Sanders forces, armed with new proof that yes, the system is rigged, were fighting in the Rules Committee to abolish superdelegates in future campaigns, to make it easier for an outsider like Sanders to wrest the nomination from an anointed insider, like Clinton. Sanders demanded that Shultz step down. So things were unraveling for the Democrats on two fronts.

Just before my flight took off came this bit of breaking news (what would I do without Twitter and my crackphone, I mean iPhone?): Shultz announced that she will resign from the DNC—as soon as this week’s convention is over. She will still wield the gavel, opening and closing the convention, though her presence may be diminished. Score another one for Sanders, who sees her as his bĂȘte noire, who may have cost him the nomination and, perhaps, the presidency. This development will surely overshadow everything else on the convention’s opening day. Never mind your message, Senator, Governor, Congressman, up-and-coming obscure state lawmaker—what do you think about your party chair resigning under fire? How can you argue the Democrats are unified? Will the 1900 or so Sanders delegates break this convention wide open by feuding with the 2800 Clinton loyalists?

This will be my seventh national party convention, and I’ve never seen the kind of head-spinning, not-according-to-plan kerfuffles we got at the RNC—and now the DNC promises more of the same.

But there’s one critical difference, and it comes from the top: the presidential nominees themselves, and their closest rivals, and it’s instructive as to what kind of president each might make.

Donald Trump ran roughshod over the Cruz minority in Cleveland. To use his words, he “crushed them.” His team kept its boots on their throats in the Rules Committee, refused to allow a floor vote on the question of whether delegates should be released from their commitment to support Trump on the first ballot, and turned back every challenge from the Dump Trump brigade, without exception or compromise. Meanwhile, John Kasich—the Republican governor of the swing state hosting the convention—boycotted the whole affair, Marco Rubio gave a perfunctory 85-second address via video from Florida, and Ted Cruz, in a prime time speech, thumbed his nose at Trump and his rabid delegates by refusing to endorse him and urging America to vote its conscience. Bedlam broke out on the floor. I saw people crying and trembling, so shaken they couldn’t speak. Seriously. The party was ripped asunder for all to see. The schism was muted, momentarily, by the rousing reception the conventioneers gave Trump’s marathon acceptance address, only to have the wound gashed open again the very next morning by Trump himself, with a rambling diatribe against Cruz. There will be no endorsements, no party unity, no coalition to defeat Clinton.

It appears the Philadelphia Story could have a quite different ending. Rather than risk the unruly disturbance of a floor vote on the superdelegates issue, Clinton’s team is forming a “Unity Commission” with the Sanders supporters to study how to reduce the role of superdelegates, and cut their number by two-thirds. That defuses that tension. Instead of fighting to keep her job, the lightning rod Shultz is stepping down, presumably at Clinton’s behest, or at the very least with her acquiescence. Though many of his delegates remain livid, and may stage protests of their own—there’s talk of turning their backs, or even walking out, during Tim Kaine’s acceptance to register their disappointment that Hillary didn’t choose a more progressive running mate, and you can count on some fiery FeelTheBern-ing during the roll call vote of the states—Sanders himself remains steadfastly in Clinton’s corner. He is not rescinding his endorsement of Clinton for president and on Monday night will deliver it, with full-throated enthusiasm, in his prime time convention address. His campaign says he will make, in great and passionate detail, the case for defeating Donald Trump and electing Hillary Clinton, and will tout the “most progressive platform in party history”—which Clinton agreed to, in yet another mollifying move. In fact, Hillary is doing everything she can to minimize the controversies, forge unity, and turn each potential conflagration into a sing-along bonfire.

Can you imagine Trump agreeing to a Unity Commission with his “crushed” rivals? Or any of the top runners-up (especially Ted Cruz) urging the country to vote for him? I didn’t think so.

On Thursday night, Hillary Clinton will strike a far different tone from Trump’s. Trump didn’t give us Ronald Reagan “morning in America’ oratory. It was more like a dark and stormy midnight. I expect Clinton will present a brighter, hopeful vision of an America that has come a long way and, with her at the helm, will rise even higher. She will try to inspire and elevate. She will talk about breaking boundaries, shattering glass ceilings, and building bridges instead of walls. She will tell us that Love Trumps Hate. She will try her hardest to seem human and humane, to connect emotionally, to appeal to optimism and hope and not just fear. In the last few days, Clinton has shown that she practices politics as the art of compromise, not the art of the one-sided deal Trump seems to be trying to sell America. The Democratic convention could still devolve into a rip-roaring free-for-all (especially if many Bernie backers refuse to follow their candidate’s lead), but something tells me the DNC and RNC will end up being as different as night and day.

Follow Doug’s convention tweets at @SovernNation. He reports live from the DNC in Philly twice each morning at either 6:20, 7:30 or 8:30, and again at 4:20pm, 5:11pm, 6:11pm, 7:11pm and 8:11pm (all Pacific time) on KCBS Radio in San Francisco. Listen live at 106.9FM, 740AM, or, where you can also hear recorded reports and see photos. Even more on the KCBS Facebook page!