The Sanders-Clinton rift: Will the Democratic Convention be more contentious than the Republican?

Might Democrats be headed to acrimony in Philadelphia?

If last weekend's ugliness at Nevada's Democratic convention — from Bernie Sanders supporters storming the stage to death threats delivered to the party's chairwoman — highlighted the rift within the Democratic Party, then the failure since of Senator Sanders to forcefully condemn that behavior demonstrates that the split is widening. Might Democrats be facing the kind of raucous convention they expected of Republicans?

It's entirely possible — and truly idiotic. Senator Sanders may be faring well in recent primary elections, Oregon and West Virginia among them, but he is losing badly with the only numbers that matter — the delegate count. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now well within striking distance of victory thanks to her broad support among superdelegates (although even without them, she'd still be ahead of Mr. Sanders).

Those are the facts, and while they may be uncomfortable for those diehard Sanders supporters to swallow, they don't justify throwing chairs or obscenely harassing party officials. Worse, it seems Senator Sanders can't call his supporters off without including a lot of mealy-mouthed justifications for why they ought to be upset (the condemnation of actual violence not showing up until about halfway through the third paragraph of a statement released Tuesday).

As Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has pointed out, this is behavior that wasn't justified at Donald Trump rallies, and it isn't justified at Democratic events either. Neophyte Sanders supporters may believe that nominations are won by direct election (or worse, by protesting loudly in public venues), but that's not how the rules work in either party. We pointed this out when Trump supporters cried foul, and we'll do the same for the Vermont senator's followers: Political parties get to write their own rules for the nomination process.

Senator Sanders has every right to remain in the race until the bitter end, but he ought to think twice about just how bitter he wants that end to be. It's one thing to try to steer the party platform toward his policy goals, it's quite another to countenance a scorched earth attitude toward the nomination process — the "Bernie or bust" philosophy that is commonly held by his younger, rowdier fans.

Is Secretary Clinton as far removed from corporate money and the Democratic establishment as Mr. Sanders is? Obviously not. But it's hard to see how helping elect a President Trump, who even now has his hand out to his fellow billionaires, would further the interests of Sanders supporters — and that's essentially the choice ahead. The time is swiftly approaching for a graceful hand-off of the baton at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July, but will that moment be possible if so many are still seething?

If there's any consolation for Ms. Wasserman-Schultz and her fellow Democrats, it's this: the Republicans aren't in much better shape. Sure, there won't be a contested Republican National Convention, but the endorsements of Mr. Trump from party leaders continue to be tepid — and that's not just Rep. Paul Ryan.

Here's the new formula for endorsing Mr. Trump if you're also running for office in November: "Well, the primary voters have spoken. He's the nominee but there sure are a lot of questions to be answered between now and November." Call it the non-endorsement endorsement.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State, chair of the House GOP conference, demonstrated how it's done this week: "In the months ahead, [Donald Trump] will have to earn the presidency by demonstrating that he has the temperament for the job and plans to empower every American to pursue a future of opportunity and freedom."


Republicans may have been fearful of a repeat of 1964 when the nomination of Barry Goldwater spurred much infighting, but Democrats actually have a more recent example of intra-party acrimony. In 1980, Sen. Ted Kennedy was reluctant to cede victory to incumbent President Jimmy Carter even as he was hundreds of delegates behind. He eventually did, but his convention speech was mostly about an end of the Kennedy "dream" and not much of an endorsement of President Carter. The bitterness remained, and it helped a Republican named Ronald Reagan get elected to the nation's highest office. The lesson? The sooner Mr. Sanders signals a willingness to declare a truce (though it need not be at this exact moment), the better for the party he says he wants to lead.

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