Donald Trump was sharply condemned by Democrats and the news media earlier this year for fomenting violence at his campaign events by targeting protesters and critics to be roughed up and ejected. Yet many of those episodes at Trump-sponsored events were no worse than the melee that broke out in Las Vegas on Saturday, as angry Bernie Sanders supporters protested the delegate selection proceedings after concluding that Hillary Clinton forces including state party officials had rigged the process.
It’s no secret that the Sanders camp has gone from optimistic to frustrated to irate as it sees the Vermont senator’s prospects for winning the nomination fast slipping away. Clinton continues to rack up the delegates she needs to claim the nomination, even as Sanders is winning most of the late-inning contests. After beating Sanders by a hair in Kentucky, 46.8 percent to 46.3 percent, and losing to Sanders in Oregon, 54 percent to 45 percent, Clinton’s nationwide delegate tally reached 2,291 Wednesday morning. That leaves her just 92 delegates shy of the majority she needs to claim the nomination.
As the incident in Las Vegas illustrated, the nerves of many of Sanders’s most ardent supporters are already frayed. If Clinton locks up the nomination and controls the flow of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer, which now seems likely, then the prospects for real fireworks at the convention might be high.
According to a report by the Associated Press, Sanders supporters in Las Vegas shouted down the keynote speaker, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and others they thought were “tilting the rules” in Clinton's favor.” The protesters also shouted obscenities and rushed the dais to protest rulings. The convention finally had to be ended after Sanders supporters started throwing chairs.
Even worse, Roberta Lange, the state Democratic Party chair, said she and her family received thousands of abusive calls, messages, texts, email and Facebook postings — and even a death threat on her voice mail.
One phone message from an unidentified woman said: “I just wanted to let you know that people like you should be hung in a public execution” to retaliate for political corruption. Another caller demanded that Lange resign as party chair “because you are bad for America and bad for the Democratic party.” A third caller, another woman, said: “Roberta, you have thousands of people [who] watched what you did today at the convention and if you don’t think that that’s coming back to bite you in the ass, you’ve got another thing coming.”
Sanders, like Trump, has complained for months that his party’s primary and caucus rules for choosing delegates were stacked against him. Sanders has been especially upset about rules in many states that prevented independents from voting for him in primaries because they hadn’t registered as Democrats.
Sanders campaign officials have also complained about procedures followed at the state level after the primaries and caucuses to select the individuals who will actually attend the national convention in July and cast votes. It’s not uncommon for delegate slots won by one candidate to be filled with someone who actually favors the other candidate.
The Sanders camp had protested rules that helped Clinton win more Nevada pledged delegates than Sanders won, according to the AP. Clinton won the state's caucuses in February, 53 percent to 47 percent, but Sanders backers had hoped to pick up extra delegates by packing the county and state party gatherings.
Top Sanders advisers were still fuming Tuesday about how the state convention was conducted on Saturday, according to media reports, but Lange said it was simply a matter of Clinton forces outmaneuvering Sanders supporters.
“At our convention, it was a matter of numbers,” Lange told MSNBC. “The Clinton people turned out 98 percent of their delegates, the Sanders people were short by [many] delegates. They didn’t turn out their people. And so that was the division in the house that day and that’s why Secretary Clinton won Nevada.”
On the eve of the state convention, Sanders issued a statement urging his supporters to work “together respectively and constructively” at the state convention.” But Lange and other state party officials asserted in a letter to the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and By-laws Committee that the outburst occurred because some of the Sanders delegates arrived at the convention behaving like “a vanguard intent upon sparking a street-fight rather than attending an orderly political party process.”
Lange said today that the letter was sent to alert the national Democratic Party that the violence and threats from Sanders forces “threaten to carry into the DNC convention” this summer. In other words, the Democratic convention might turn out to be as rowdy or more rowdy than the GOP gathering.
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz issued a tough statement, saying that both campaigns should speak out against the threats and disorder at the state convention. “Our democracy is undermined any time threats, intimidation, physical violence or damage to property are present,” said Wasserman Schultz, a House member from Florida. “If there are legitimate concerns, they must be addressed in an orderly, civil and peaceful manner.”
Sanders appeared combatant in responding to criticism suggesting that his campaign organization has a penchant for violence, which he called “nonsense.”
“I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals,” he said in a statement. “But when we speak of violence, I should add here that, months ago, during the Nevada campaign, shots were fired into my campaign office in Nevada and an apartment housing my campaign staff was broken into and ransacked.” He went on to complain that Democratic leaders had prevented the Nevada convention process from being fair and transparent.
There has been widespread controversy within the party about whether Sanders is hurting Clinton’s chances of beating Trump this fall by continuing what most people view as a quixotic attempt to overcome Clinton’s massive delegate lead and continue to attack her policies and record.
Sanders insists that he has a right and duty to continue his campaign through early June and until every state has voted. Then, he said, he will make his case to the national delegates this summer that he would be a far stronger candidate than Clinton to take on Trump, as many recent polls suggest. He also will insist that many of his liberal views and proposals — on health care, education, the minimum wage and Social Security expansion, among others — be made part of the Democrats’ platform.
Sander has said he would work tirelessly this fall to defeat Trump, regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination. But in order to do that, he will have to persuade millions of liberals, college students and independents who enthusiastically enlisted in his “revolution” to ultimately back a far more conventional and moderate candidate. Some Sanders supporters have said already that they could never bring themselves to vote for Clinton.
This article was updated on May 18 at 11:00 am.