With the Democratic National Convention on the eve of opening in hot and humid Philadelphia, the party itself has been thrown into some turmoil, with Wikileaks releasing thousands of internal emails. The emails, between members of the party’s national committee, make it pretty clear that the party’s centre — meant to be impartial — did everything they could to damage the Bernie Sanders campaign during the primary season earlier this year.
This bias was widely assumed, especially by the Sanders campaign, but it’s something else to see it clearly and explicitly stated. That makes it impossible not to demand action, and by late Sunday afternoon, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz had agreed to resign at the end of the convention — and she will not be giving a speech to the full convention floor.
The emails dump comes at the worst possible time for the Democratic Party as it attempts to reunite the party after the gruelling Clinton-Sanders competition. Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton last week — a necessary step to getting on the speaking roster at the convention — and will address the audience on Monday night. But a number of Sanders supporters haven’t accepted his decision and will be continuing to protest in the streets of Philadelphia throughout the week.
The party’s left and the independents that Bernie brought in will have been even less enamoured of Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential pick, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, announced on the weekend. Kaine is a centrist figure, perhaps mildly to the left side, solid, professional, in his late 50s, and very, very white. He’s a Roman Catholic and a fluent Spanish speaker, and the choice has several aims: it reassures socially conservative Democrat voters that there is a while adult male — a boss, not a subaltern — on the team. Kaine’s role will be in part to launch the attacks on Trump, while Clinton outlines a positive message. Just as Joe Biden’s job was to reassure a certain type of voter in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania that the young black kid could be trusted, so Kaine will neutralise any deep-seated uncertainties about a woman. He will also appeal to independents, i.e. ex-Republicans who can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump. And of course he will shore up the vote in Virginia.
The downside is that he is almost exactly the sort of centrist that the left of the party feared — and a real snub to the Sanders movement. In order to placate them both Clinton and Kaine have come out substantially against the free-trade Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, but there is a great deal of suspicion as to whether either are really committed to such a stance, or whether the treaty might get passed and authorised by Congress and the President in the “lame duck” session after the election.
The convention kicks off with Donald Trump and the Republicans getting no appreciative “bounce” from their underwhelming convention last week — but no great deficit either. Trump is running about 3% behind Clinton on average — a frighteningly close result for someone who was meant to be likely to lose by a landslide. In swing states such as Florida, Trump is leading; in others such as Ohio, he trails by only 1%. And he is competitive in Pennsylvania, the state that Republicans have been trying to bring into play for more than a decade.
But any hope some in the GOP had that Trump might project a more presidential demeanour — after his forthright, though dark and paranoid, speech on the closing night of convention — were dashed on the Friday morning, when he gave a long rambling and Trumpesque speech “thanking” the RNC volunteers. This became a detailed reply to all his enemies, which included a detailed defence of Melania Trump’s naked appearance on the cover of GQ and an announcement that he might run start up SuperPACs to favour opponents of Ted Cruz and John Kasich in forthcoming elections. He also had more kind words for Vladimir Putin — as questions surrounding Trump’s links to Russian finance and the provenance of the DNC emails handed to Wikileaks came to bear.
There is no sign that the Trump train is stopping or even slowing; the DNC will have to produce something very compelling this week to reset the race in their favour.