Some have observed that the Democratic convention floor has been less unified than the Republican one last week. This is true. But I suspect the Democrats are going to be better off for it.
The Republicans achieved their unity the cheap way. Many Republicans who were queasy over Donald Trump stayed away. And non-Trump delegates who did show up mostly kept their mouths shut. The big discordant note from Ted Cruz was his and his alone, greeted with boos from the floor led by Trump aides.
In contrast, the Democrats acknowledged their political diversity. Bernie signs have been handed out. Bernie t-shirts are sold in the official DNC merchandise store, as are buttons featuring both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
More importantly, the speakers are confronting the political reality in the hall, and from every possible angle. Sometimes it’s gentle, as when former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb said “they both deserve our cheers.” Sometimes it’s blunt, as when Sarah Silverman scolded Sanders holdouts for “being ridiculous.” Sometimes it’s sly, as when President Obama urged all Democrats to “Feel The Bern” and work to get out the vote, or when Michelle Obama offered Bernie supporters a lesson from Hillary’s career: “…when she didn’t win the nomination eight years ago, she didn’t get angry or disillusioned.”
Of course, this is a modern convention, not the disastrous “open” convention of 1972. Dissenters have been leaned on by both Sanders and Clinton camps not to excessively disrupt the proceedings and mar the party’s preferred narrative. But part of that narrative is that the party is big enough for Sanders’ vision and Sanders’ voters.
Whereas the Republicans don’t know how to deal with the fact that Trumpism conflicts with several long-standing party principles, and with where the party needs to go in the future if it is to compete in an increasingly diverse America.
Ever since the failure of the George W. Bush administration, Republicans have covered their eyes and ears to the ideological rot in their party’s foundation. Instead of commissioning ideological repair work, they ignored their problems and preoccupied themselves with obstructing Obama. When that didn’t work in 2012, a feeble “autopsy” was commissioned and promptly ignored. Having nothing substantive to offer, they were ripe for takeover by a shameless demagogue.
And after that happened, Republicans still duck. Many skip the convention. Speaker Paul Ryan gamely tries to offer a positive vision that is not infected with hatred toward immigrants and Muslims, but it is a stale and thin and overshadowed by Trump. Ted Cruz snubs Trump, but not on policy grounds; his rogue call to “vote your conscience” was preceded by a speech that tracked Trump’s insidious views closely. He doesn’t represent the sane-yet-cowardly wing of the party. Cruz represents the same unhinged extremism as Trump; he’s just mad he doesn’t get to lead it.
Democratic unity may be somewhat tenuous. There will be fights in the near future over spending, trade and foreign policy. But the fights are in the open, and Democrats have shown a capacity to compromise and move forward. Republicans, trapped in denial, wondering how they fell so far, might look toward the Democratic convention’s capacity to manage the intra-party tension.