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Now it is Democrats, not Republicans, at war with each other

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

My friend Cindy has been waiting a long time to see her favorite candidate, Hillary Clinton, become the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. She was disappointed when Barack Obama ran off with the prize in 2008 and hoped there would be an open road for Hillary in 2016.

In March, Cindy went to her precinct caucus in Seattle and got chosen to move on to the legislative district caucus as a vote for Clinton. That turned out to be a miserable experience, thanks to the aggressive antics of some Bernie Sanders supporters. “It got ugly,” Cindy said. Here is part of the note she texted to me on April 17, the day of the gathering:

“A fragile-looking 18-year-old girl volunteered to speak briefly about her support for Hillary. A Bernie supporter yelled ‘fascist,’ then others joined in with yelling and booing. It was like a Trump rally.

“Bernie delegates kept interrupting the caucus proceedings, protesting nearly every motion. Hillary supporters were mostly shell-shocked and quiet. The folks running the caucus kept trying to explain that the delegate numbers for Bernie/Hillary would not change from the March caucus — we were just voting for the platform and choosing who will serve as delegates to the state (convention), but Berniacs were ramped up and hell bent on hijacking the caucus…

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“After four hours, I walked outside to call [my husband] to come pick me up. Some Bernie supporters overheard me describing the ugliness and chaos and they told me they were embarrassed by the behavior of their fellow Bernie delegates.

“The insanity continued. As I was leaving, a young Bernie delegate from my precinct asked for a ride home. ... We both left saddened and disillusioned.”

Now that the actions and attitudes of Sanders supporters have become a national issue thanks to the chaos at the Nevada Democratic convention last weekend, Cindy’s experience does not sound unusual. She sent me another text in the wake of the Nevada debacle to say how familiar it all sounded. “I just heard Jeff Weaver [Sanders’ campaign manager] say on CNN that what happened in Nevada was unique,” Cindy said. “Not true. He needs a reality check.”

Actually, the entire Democratic Party needs a reality check. For months, pundits have talked about a civil war in the Republican Party and the potential for a destructive split between establishment conservatives and Donald Trump’s populist insurgents. Well, the Republicans seem to be quickly getting used to the idea of Trump at the top of their ticket. Meanwhile, the rancor between the mainline Democrats who back Clinton and the activists who see Sanders as the only ideologically pure choice for progressives is getting worse.

There is always bad feeling between competing camps in hotly contested primaries and maybe by the time the Democratic convention in Philadelphia comes to an end, Democrats will be united behind their candidate. That is what usually happens, but this time could be different. Many Bernie bros and Sanders sisters are, like their candidate, new to the Democratic Party. Not only new, they are antagonistic to party leadership, viewing people such as DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz — not to mention Hillary Clinton — as morally compromised members of a corrupt establishment that is as repellent as the GOP. If and when they lose in Philadelphia, do not expect them to suddenly stick Hillary pins on their lapels (if they even have lapels).

Politics can get rough. The Clinton campaign has played hardball to get as many delegates as possible and they have benefited from a familiarity with the rules of the game that most of Sanders’ newcomers lack. But the Sanders legion has played rough as well, especially in caucus settings where they have been able to gain advantage with numbers and noise. The difference is that some Bernie backers feel their righteousness excuses anything they do, while they view the countermoves by the other side as unfair and “fascist.”

Democratic leaders are calling on Sanders to rein in the excesses of his most bellicose fans. So far, his words of caution have been tepid and that is a problem for Democrats. Their fate is in the hands of a politician who, like many of his supporters, never called himself a Democrat until he decided to upend conventional politics by running for president.

This has been the year of the outsider in both political parties. It would be wildly ironic if the excesses of Sanders’ partisans cause so much damage to the Democratic Party that the outsider they end up electing is a guy named Trump.

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