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Renée Graham

Democrats need to fight the GOP, not each other

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debated on April 14 in New York. JUSTIN LANE/EPA

Say what you will about the Republican Party, but it understands when it’s time to stop flapping about and get down to serious business.

Much of the GOP establishment may detest Donald Trump, its presumptive nominee, but they’re still queuing up to support him. Any concerns about the lasting damage their bloviating standard-bearer is inflicting on the party are being usurped by a quarter-century of Hillary Clinton hate. If a clown car running on bigotry, misogyny, and ignorance is their best way back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, then the GOP will get on board.

For the Democrats, meanwhile, “unity” has become a four-letter word.

Once the Democrats could barely contain their glee at the Republicans’ Trump trouble; now they’re trying to stanch the bleeding from their own self-inflicted wounds. A spring of schadenfreude has unraveled into a mad scene worthy of a tragic opera. While many were predicting the death of the GOP, few seemed to notice that the Democrats’ own house was even more divided.


Senator Bernie Sanders has become the irascible child who flips the board and stomps the checkers to dust after realizing he can’t win. With his talk of “rigged” primaries and a potentially “messy” Democratic convention revving up his supporters, one-third of them claim they won’t vote for Clinton, according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Sanders is jousting with Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz like she’s a villain in his superhero story. Attempting to calm the rhetoric, the DNC announced that the Vermont senator would choose five people for the 15-member drafting committee responsible for writing the party’s platform. Of course, there’s no reason to believe this will appease Sanders or his hell-no-we-won’t-go supporters

As for Clinton, she can’t seal the deal. Too often she has come across as the self-anointed one, alienating those who grouse at the notion that her nomination was a foregone conclusion long before the first primary vote was cast. Clinton probably thought she’d be basking as the first woman presidential nominee by now, something she seems to have been planning for her entire adult life, if not longer. In recent weeks she’s been focusing on Trump, but she can’t ignore Sanders’ barking Brooklyn baritone in the near distance. And she has to put up with it. As eager as she is to coax Sanders supporters to her side, she can’t afford any reciprocal smack-talking.


If, to some, Sanders’ original role in the race was to hip-check Clinton from her usual center-right to the progressive left, it’s possible he always had grander ideas. Sanders has made it clear that he isn’t dropping out before the convention, and doesn’t care if his continued presence in the race ultimately harms Clinton’s chances in November. It’s worth remembering that he’s an Independent running as a Democrat only because his campaign would have been stillborn as a third-party candidate. So this is not a man concerned about the Democratic Party, its reform, or continued survival. Right now, it’s hard to picture a defeated Sanders standing alongside a triumphant Clinton, hands clasped and raised in a party-unity photo op anytime soon.

Like bulls speared before their final encounter with the matador, the Democrats are only weakening themselves for the greater fight ahead. At this rate, the Republicans, who care only about their party and its antiquated policies, hope this will allow them to make fast work of what gristle remains. For the Democrats, ego and anger are undermining a crucial opportunity for their party and the nation. Should the moment be squandered, the Democrats will have no one to blame but themselves. And come November, the nauseating, potential result — a Trump presidency — will be more than anyone, beyond those already dangerously deluded, can bear.


Renée Graham writes regularly for the Globe. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.