After the DNC: Hillary Clinton and the discontent of the Sandernistas

By: Andrew Smith



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The Democrats need to unite their party or risk conceding the White House to Mr. Trump

The DNC is over and yet again the Democrats showed that they know how to put on a show. From the highly personal speech of former president Bill Clinton, who presented his wife and current presidential nominee Secretary Hillary Clinton in a very human manner, to the emotional addresses of both Obama’s, the most notable theme throughout the four day convention was the optimistic manner in which the convention presented the United States. This stood in stark contrast to the Republican convention the week earlier which mainly concentrated on denouncing Clinton and promoting Trump’s agenda of fear.[1] Given the differing political rhetorics of both presidential nominees this perhaps came as no great surprise.

Throughout the four-day convention however it was Secretary Clinton’s ex-rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, and his supporters, who arguably had one of the most significant impacts, as he is – and they are – also likely to do so in the coming months. Day one of the convention in particular highlighted the polarisation that currently exists within the Democratic party and within American politics more widely. Die-hard Sanders supporters protested on the streets of Philadelphia, the host city of the DNC, and within the convention hall itself at the prospect of a Clinton presidency.[2]

These types of images are unusual for a party convention which are more traditionally seen as one last grand celebration of each party’s presidential nominee, culminating with the formal nomination and acceptance speech, before the final toils of the campaign in the months leading up to election day. They are also about setting the agenda and the tone of the campaign for the closing months and beginning to make decisions on which issues will be prioritised, and will create the more appealing headlines in an effort to convince the undecided voters. More importantly conventions are about unification. Whilst most Democratic officials have rallied around Clinton’s campaign, the 2016 DNC showed a raucous minority of the electorate certainly has not.

What the DNC brought to the fore was that, seemingly, the Sandernistas are as defiant in their acceptance of Clinton as Trump supporters are in their ignorance of any logical narratives suggesting that just perhaps he is not the man to ‘make America great again.’[3] Sanders supporters depict Secretary Clinton as the quintessential candidate of the establishment they despise. Someone who represents those at fault for wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria; who colludes with Wall Street for political funding, leverage and progression and; stands for those whom are in favour of neoliberal policies which Sanders supporters feel have neglected the poorest in American society for the past three to four decades. She is also portrayed as a president who will assure the prolongation of the in-fighting of party politics which has characterised much of the Obama administration and has hindered progress on an array of issues; gun control being debatably the most infamous. In short the die-hard Sanders supporters want to see large scale overhauls in the American political system. It is in this divergence of opinions where the division within the party resides. Clinton needs to address this disunity and quickly. If she is to become the first female president of the United States it could ultimately be down to her ability to convince these hard-line Sanders supporters to vote for her.

For Hillary Clinton the principal concern is not that these voters will vote for Donald Trump but that they will not vote at all. Many Sanders supporters, and many party unaffiliated voters – who make up the majority of the electorate – are reluctant in having to choose between the lesser of two evils. In an election of such importance Clinton needs as much of the US public as possible to go to the polls for her. Senator Sanders could play a crucial role in ensuring this.

His powerful delivery on day one of the DNC was his most convincing speech to date whereby he proclaimed his support for Secretary Clinton and where he endorsed her stance on some, although notably not all, issues including: the economy, health care, climate change, the Supreme Court and more.[4] His speech’s recurring phrase of ‘Hillary understands’ was significant and suggested real progress was made during the party’s platform in the weeks prior. It was the second day however where Sanders’ impact was most felt when he ended the roll call vote with his acclamation for Secretary Clinton from his Vermont delegation.[5] This hugely symbolic gesture was a clear stride towards party unification and should not be devalued.

Secretary Clinton’s response to the division in the party during her acceptance speech was typically Clinton-like and yet untypical at the same time.[6] Whilst she did not acknowledge her criticisms directly, she also did not go on the defensive, as seems to have become her norm, and addressed the fact there are many people who just don’t know what to make of her. She also returned the compliments Bernie Sanders paid to her by directly commenting on the economic and social issues that gave the Sanders campaign so much momentum during the primaries and assured his voters that she has heard them, and that she needed their ‘ideas, energy and passion’ to ensure real change in America. She may not have had the poetry and natural public speaking ability of Barack Obama or her husband but this was an effective speech that left no stone unturned. A delivery that accurately reflected the type of politician she is and potential president she could become.

Regardless of all the statements made by Clinton herself, the generous motions by Sanders and the endorsement of high profile politicians and celebrities alike, Clinton will know she faces an uphill struggle in the months ahead if she is to convince the Sandernistas to vote for her on November 8th. Most worryingly is that the gap between her and this minority is one she may be powerless to bridge. She could attempt to smooth relations; starting perhaps by accepting some degree of responsibility for the email scandal, although this has become ever the less likely after the FBI ruling.[7] Nevertheless even if the potential trade-offs, where they do exist, see her gain ground it may still not be enough to help her claim the White House.

One thing that can be said for Donald Trump is that he may not have the backing of many of his own party but at least he has his hardline voters in order, and as the recent British EU referendum has shown, it is they, the voters, who will decide the direction in which the country will progress, regardless of how small the margin.[8]



Andrew is currently pursuing his MA in Conflict, Security & Development at King’s College London after attaining his BA in Criminology. Andrew has a specialist interest in private military and security companies, and natural resources & armed conflict, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. He has previously interned as a political and security risk analyst within the private extractive industries for both BP and Halliburton. You can follow him on Twitter @agsmith_93.





[1] ‘2016 Republican national convention: a look back – in pictures,’ The Guardian (24 July 2016),

[2] ‘Bernie Sanders Backers March Against Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia,’ International New York Times (24 July 2016),

[3] ‘33 Percent of Bernie Sanders Supporters Will Not Vote for Hillary Clinton. Here’s Why,’ The Huffington Post (16 March 2016),

[4] ‘Sen. Bernie Sanders’ full speech from the DNC,’ Politico (26 July 2016),

[5] PBS NewsHour. “Bernie Sanders surprises crowd, moves to nominate Clinton by voice vote at the 2016 DNC.” Youtube video, 4:45. July 26, 2016,

[6] ‘Hillary Clinton Begins Building Her Coalition,’ The Atlantic (29 July 2016),

[7] ‘Statement by FBI Director James B. Comey on the Investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Use of a Personal E-Mail System,’ Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5 July 2016.

[8] ‘EU Referendum Results,’ BBC News (24 June 2016),

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