PHILADELPHIA – Paul Simon was supposed to play a three-song set on stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Monday night. But the overall program ran long and they still had to get Michelle Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders on stage. On the fly, time constraints forced the DNC to trim Simon’s performance to but a single tune. And then Simon went out on stage and played – of all things - “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at a political convention.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Welcome to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. There’s a fight for the soul of the party here. It plays out by proxy through delegates supporting Hillary Clinton and others backing Sanders.
DNC Chairwoman and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., resigned amid a hacking scandal which revealed she was in the tank for Clinton. The DNC hoped to quash the disquiet Monday night with a keynote speech from Sanders.
“He will give a speech tonight that will put (internal disagreements) to bed,” predicted Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., before Sanders' remarks.
Sanders delivered a rousing oratory. But it didn’t contain his combustible partisans. Could Sanders salve the party’s wounds by asking the convention to approve Clinton’s nomination by acclamation?
Democrats made a conscious decision to barrel through the roll call once Clinton crossed the magic threshold of 2,382 votes to secure the nomination.
The Republican stronghold and electorally-scarce state of South Dakota hurtled Clinton to the nomination. The last time South Dakota played such an important role in presidential politics was 1972 when President Nixon stomped Democratic nominee Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., in the electoral college, 520 to 17.
At least we’re more united than the Republicans, Democrats conjectured. What are the Sanders people going to do? Vote for Donald Trump?
If there was ever any doubt Democrats failed to inoculate themselves from the schisms which thrashed the seems of the Republican party, one need look no further than the outbursts in Philadelphia.
The Democrats divide is real. The tea party and other conservative groups began seizing the GOP several years ago. They sidelined former House Speaker John Boehner and upended former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his primary. Some of this discord ultimately propelled Donald Trump to the GOP nomination.
This is now beyond Sanders. It’s fermented into a movement.
Sanders himself even blasted a signed, text message to delegates, requesting calm.
“I ask you as a personal courtesy to me not to engage in any kind of protest on the floor,” Sanders implored.
It mattered little. Buoyed by Wasserman Schultz’s ouster, Sanders supporters raised hell on the convention floor.
At first Wasserman Schultz contended she would gavel the Democrats’ conclave to order, speak during the convention and close the meeting Thursday night. But Democrats ducked a major embarrassment when the Florida Democrat elected to forgo all of her parliamentary duties.
Perhaps that was providence. Democratic officials were petrified that news organizations would distill the first day of the Philadelphia convention to a single “video” byte: Wasserman Schultz gaveling the hall to order amid boos and catcalls.
“The optics were terrible,” said one senior Democratic source who asked not to be identified. “This would have been the defining moment for the entire week.”
Instead, Democrats enlisted Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to gavel the show to order before turning things over to Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohioo, to preside. Things didn’t get much better as Sanders delegates booed and hissed throughout the opening hours of the convention.
“Excuse me!” blurted an exasperated Fudge to the demonstrators as she tried to restore order at one point.
The hectoring continued. It didn’t matter who was on stage.
They taunted Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. They upbraided Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
Comedian Sarah Silverman chastised Sanders supporters.
“Can I just say to the Bernie or bust people, you’re being ridiculous,” Silverman admonished.
Much of the jeering emanated from the massive California delegation, positioned stage right in a corner of permanent seats just off the convention floor. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., said Wasserman Schultz’s fall spurred the protests.
“It excited them. Anything they see as bias or unfairness feeds the flames a bit,” said Huffman.
The Marin County Democrat made a keen observation about the rabble-rousers.
“Some of these folks were booing (Rep.) Barbara Lee, D-Calif., at the California (delegation) breakfast this morning,” said Huffman. “I mean, she’s to the left of Bernie Sanders. It tells you a lot about the intensity of the faction.”
If there was a moment which fused some of the turbulence, it came when Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, walked onto stage to nominate Sanders. Earlier this year, Gabbard resigned as DNC Vice Chair when she threw her support behind Sanders. Gabbard tussled with Wasserman Schultz over the Democrats’ debate schedule.
Well, look who spoke at the convention: Gabbard and not the person who organized the party, Wasserman Schultz.
Moments after Clinton scored the nomination, hundreds of Sanders supporters walked out of the arena in protest.
Sanders and his voters are transforming the Democratic party. The party tips to the left with the emergence of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and even discussion to include Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on the ticket.
The question is how far the Sanders supporters are willing to go. They’re energized now.
We’ll know more in 2020.
Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.