Bernie Sanders, The Nevada Debacle & The Potentially Irreparable Democratic Rift
Days after the Nevada Democratic Party convention broke into chaos — and in large part due to a violent strain of Bernie Sanders supporters, according to the Nevada Democratic Party, which filed a formal complaint against his campaign Monday — the presidential candidate himself finally released a statement addressing it. The Vermont senator waited until Tuesday to address reports that his supporters threw chairs, rushed the stage, and even sent death threats to state party chairwoman Roberta Lange, as noted in the New York Times' account. And when Sanders formally addressed the events, not only did it take too long, but I personally found his response lackluster at best.
Sanders' statement opened by calling out the Democratic party as a source of people's unrest.
It is imperative that the Democratic leadership, both nationally and in the states, understand that the political world is changing and that millions of Americans are outraged at establishment politics and establishment economics. The people of this country want a government which represents all of us, not just the 1 percent, super PACs and wealthy campaign contributors.
When he got to the meat of the issue, what disappoints me is how Sanders did not directly apologize on behalf of his supporters' actions. It's a separate question as to whether a presidential candidate is truly obligated to do so, but I believe that supporters represent the candidate — and vice versa. It's understandable for Sanders to defend his campaign at length, but the one-sentence condemnation of violence he gives feels, to me, like a garnish when it should have been the centerpiece of his statement.
Within the last few days there have been a number of criticisms made against my campaign organization. Party leaders in Nevada, for example, claim that the Sanders campaign has a ‘penchant for violence.’ That is nonsense. Our campaign has held giant rallies all across this country, including in high-crime areas, and there have been zero reports of violence. Our campaign of course believes in non-violent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals.
After that brief mention of the violent incidents at the Nevada Democratic Convention, the statement shifted focus back to a critique of the Democratic party, including ordering it to treat Sanders' supporters with the "respect that they have earned." This becomes a thorny idea when placed into the context of the chaos caused by some of those supporters. Sanders went on to state:
If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned ... Unfortunately, that was not the case at the Nevada convention. At that convention the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place.
Regardless of whether it's intentional, Sanders' words are in danger of sending a message to the more violent supporters of his: That although their violence was condemnable, they were also justified in their actions. The statements imply that there is no need to apologize since Sanders didn't.
Content aside, why the radio silence for far too long? Even a timely tweet addressing the issue would have been enough. Campaign spokesman Michael Briggs, told the Associated Press on Monday that the campaign "[does] not condone violence or encourage violence or even threats of violence." But this brief line was hardly enough to substitute what could be a more powerful statement from Sanders himself. And yes, the Vermont senator has finally said something, but I'm concerned the tardiness of his words could be construed as an indicator of how he did not prioritize the events at the Nevada Democratic Convention enough to immediately speak out.
I have to wonder how effective such a statement is, and who it's directed toward. Is it targeted toward appeasing Sanders' critics? Or admonishing those supporters who became unruly? There is not a lot of actual admonishment within the statement. I also wonder how much power a single statement really has to influence his supporters, especially considering the implicit message in both its timing and content.
The Nevada Democratic Convention has become a PR nightmare for the Sanders campaign, and I'm not sure Sanders is adequately managing it with his statement. It's not just about his campaign either: His statement, with its harsh words for the party he is running to represent in the general election, may not be an effective band-aid for the deep rift within it that the Nevada Democratic Party's revealed.