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The Democrats have seen more fractured conventions than this

Jul 26, 2016

Shortly after the Democratic National Convention got started Monday morning, I got a phone call from a near-panicked Clinton supporter. “The convention is in chaos!” she said. “Bernie Sanders’ own supporters booed him when he told them to support Hillary.”


She was worried her party was going to split and give the election to Donald Trump.

Well, what my friend didn’t realize was put best by the comedian Will Rogers more than eighty years ago. “I’m a member of no organized political party,” he used to say. “I’m a Democrat.” I myself have watched a fair number of Democratic conventions over the years.

If you think this one is contentious, think about 1980, which ended with President Jimmy Carter pursing Teddy Kennedy on stage, trying unsuccessfully to get his rival for the nomination to give him a hug. Nobody wants to remember the tear gas and riots of 1968, though many of us do. Then there was 1972, in which delegates actually cast votes for Chairman Mao and Mickey Mouse, and so dragged out the proceedings that the nominee didn’t even get to give his acceptance speech until after two in the morning.

If you want to go way back, the ultimate convention from hell was in 1924, when two rival candidates managed to prevent each other or anyone else from being nominated for a mind-numbing sixteen days and 103 ballots. Compared to those conventions, this year’s gathering in Philadelphia is the honeymoon suite. Personally, I think the star so far has been the breathtakingly gorgeous, brilliant and eloquent Michelle Obama.

These days, in our present world of saturation coverage and the need for a new headline every five minutes, it is easy sometimes to forget that Democrats, unlike Republicans, are not a very homogenous bunch, but a collection of a range of interest groups, based on gender, ethnicity, ideology and economics.

They often have little in common – except that they hate Republicans more. So-called blue collar white males were once a part of this coalition, but not any longer, except for the small minority still in strong unions. But professional women have also switched sides and taken their place in the Democratic constellation.

From time to time, substantial portions of the Democratic coalition have drifted off to support Republican candidates like Ronald Reagan. It’s much harder to imagine them ending up backing Donald J. Trump. By the way, my friend was also worried because new polls now show Trump leading by a small margin nationwide.

Well, sure he is; that almost always happens the week after a party’s convention. Poor old Walter Mondale was even ahead after his, and he ended up winning a grand total of one state. One thing we can predict is this. Michigan will see more than usual of both these candidates this year. There are those who think Trump can appeal to disgruntled, usually Democratic voters in a band of states that includes Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

If he can flip those states and hold all the ones Mitt Romney won, that would be just enough to give us President Trump. The odds would seem against it. But the odds have been against virtually everything else that has happened this year.

My guess is that we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.