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Politics

Analysis:: What’s at stake in the Democratic and Republican family feuds

Watch: Day one of the Democratic National Convention in less than 3 minutes. More convention coverage at latimes.com/trailguide.

If nothing else, the opening day of the Democratic National Convention showed that family feuds are not solely the province of the Republican Party.

Party stalwarts arrived onstage only to be treated dismissively — loudly so —  by many of the delegates. That followed a second day of protests by supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the second-place finisher, who was booed by many of his own backers for suggesting they should cast their November ballots for the winner, Hillary Clinton.

That followed Florida delegates yelling at the party’s chairwoman, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, on Monday morning, contributing to her decision to cancel her convention appearances.

“Brothers and sisters, this is the real world that we live in,” Sanders had implored his supporters as they booed.

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Real world or not, it should come as no shock after the campaign season America has witnessed that chaos has been visited upon both political parties as they seek to put their best faces forward in four-day television extravaganzas.

But the lines of division are not the same in each party.

Republicans saw last week that their party has been taken over by Donald Trump, the real estate impresario whose improbable campaign defeated more than a dozen candidates who, in more normal times, could have found success.

Trump channeled the economic and cultural concerns of Americans who felt spurned by more traditional Republicans, attracting them with bombastic words and spraying insults across many voter groups.

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He succeeded to the point that delegates to his Cleveland convention roundly booed when his second-place finisher, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, failed to endorse Trump, saying that people should vote their consciences.

The Democratic problem is the opposite in many ways: Rather than taking over the party, many supporters of Sanders here remain on the outside, protesting. They do so despite his dramatic successes in winning votes, raising money, successfully liberalizing the party platform and contributing to the deposing of Wasserman Schultz, who will leave her post at the conclusion of the convention, months before her term ended.

Both feuds also look very different outside the convention halls. 

Many Republicans are decidedly not in Trump’s corner, nor do they agree with the direction of the party. The representatives of that faction, including two former presidents and the last party nominee, boycotted the proceedings, which were fairly bereft of high-profile Republicans.

By contrast, among the Democrats, most of Sanders’ supporters are already in Clinton’s camp, reluctantly or not, polls have shown. Those at the convention who have protested his endorsement of her don’t represent the bulk of Democrats, although their televised protests give them outsized presence. A significant number of them are proud to say that they aren’t Democrats at all, having joined the party in the last year just to work for Sanders.

Still, the protests in both parties have a grounding in dramatic, continuing shifts among American voters.

Trump benefited from a political party growing more white and older by the year, giving it a distance from minorities but not from fears of their impact on the nation’s culture. By force of personality — and a honed sense of connecting to their emotions — he overrode any concerns about deviations from what has been decades-long Republican orthodoxy on issues like trade and foreign policy.

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The question that will be decided after this election — either swiftly if Trump loses, or after years if he wins — is whether he’s a celebrity anomaly or represents a more lasting change of Republican policy.

The Democratic future also depends on the winner in November. But already, the party establishment, including Clinton, has moved in the direction espoused by Sanders. While that has not stilled all the criticism of her at this convention, it has smoothed the path ahead. 

Most of the speakers on the opening night of the convention worked to bind up any lingering wounds. They spoke to the sentiment behind Sanders’ effort, even as they praised Clinton and reminded the delegates — and television audience — that only she stood between Trump and the presidency.

Elizabeth Warren, Sanders’ choice for the vice presidential nomination, echoed Sanders’ words as she spoke to delegates about a “rigged” system.

“We fought and we won and we improved the lives of millions of people,” she said of Democrats.

But she was worried, she said, “that opportunity is slipping away from people who work hard and play by the rules.”

For those steeped in Democratic politics, that was a reminder that, in some ways, Democratic goals have been constant even if the policies have moved left: Those were the exact words used daily by Bill Clinton in his first presidential campaign, 24 years ago.

Michelle Obama delivered another kind of salve, reminding Democrats of whom they are united in loathing. She lanced Trump, without naming him, for the years of criticism he has leveled at her husband, casting Trump as a man she and President Obama had to teach their children to ignore.

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Michelle Obama, first lady of the United States, speaks at the Democratic National Convention. More coverage at latimes.com/trailguide.

The first couple, she said, thinks about “how we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level.  No, our motto is, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us.”

It was left to Sanders to try to persuade his heartfelt and somewhat unwieldy flock to gather behind Clinton’s candidacy. 

Sanders appeared anything but vanquished. He delivered a shortened version of his usual speech in which he railed against a nation where the rich reap sweeping benefits while the poor struggle.

But he also leavened his message with a bit of the “real world” that he’d warned his followers about hours before.

He laid out the accomplishments of President Obama, the goals of his self-described “political revolution” and the extent to which those goals could be achieved with a president other than him.

“By these measures, any objective observer will conclude that -– based on her ideas and her leadership –- Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States,” he said. “The choice is not even close.”

Those lines provoked a giant, extended blast of applause from the audience. “Bernie” signs were raised toward him, even as shouts of “Hillary!” filled the arena.

It had a cathartic feeling of unity, as if some of the emotion driving Sanders’ supporters had been released over the course of the long evening.

But there was also another Sanders line.

“I think we can all agree that much, much more needs to be done,” Sanders said.

That spoke of decisions yet unmade by Democrats, and feuds yet fully eased.

cathleen.decker@latimes.com

Twitter: @cathleendecker

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