A year after the 2016 presidential election, lingering tensions between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wings continue to nag at the Democratic Party.
The two sides have battled throughout the year, including in the fight over who should chair the Democratic National Committee. Sanders and his supporters backed the losing candidate, Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), while establishment Democrats were seen as supporting the winner, former Obama administration Labor Secretary Tom Perez.
A resolution calling on Vermont’s Independent senator to join the Democratic Party was defeated during DNC meetings last week in another sign of the tensions between Sanders acolytes hoping to change the party and Clinton people resentful that Sanders is not even a member of their party.
Clinton supporters were also upset to see Sanders land a high-profile speaking appearance at a women’s conference in Detroit organized by people behind the Women’s March on Jan. 21. Sanders supporters, for their part, were annoyed at the complaints from Clinton backers.
Democrats acknowledge that emotions are still raw more than a year after Clinton’s primary win and nearly a year after President Trump’s victory on Election Day. Many also admit that the infighting puts the focus off Trump.
“Democrats felt passionately about their candidates. And for the most part, they still do. It’s pretty hard to just turn that off like a faucet,” said Tracy Sefl, a Democratic consultant who served as a surrogate to Clinton during her 2016 run. “But look at what is happening to this country. Trump is wreaking havoc while Democrats grapple with a messaging crisis and tumult in party structure.”
Bill Press, the radio host who served as a Sanders surrogate, acknowledged the ongoing backbiting, suggesting it is one reason why the party is “in disarray.”
“The Democratic Party is coming out of a disaster, losing an election they should never have lost and losing control of the Senate and White House,” said Press, who is also a columnist for The Hill.
One member of the Democratic National Committee who attended the Las Vegas meeting described it as a “shit show.”
“I don’t think anyone thinks the party is in a good place right now and if they do their kidding themselves,” the member said. “There’s still very much the Clinton faction and the Bernie faction, and I think it hurts us.”
Clinton sparked a new wave of friction when she wrote in her new book that Sanders’s attacks “caused lasting damage” to the party.
In an email to The Hill, Brent Budowsky, a Democratic consultant and columnist for The Hill, said that a discussion of whether Bernie Sanders and Angus King should run as Democrats was a “ridiculous distraction” and he called the demotion of “respected liberals” who supported Ellison in the DNC leadership race a “divisive disgrace.”
Much of the Democrats’ angst is aimed at the DNC, where fundraising has flatlined. The Republican National Committee outraised the DNC by more than $6 million dollars last month, federal filings show.
“There’s a lack of excitement,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons. “I don’t feel any excitement for the Democratic Party among activists from small dollar to big dollar donors. I think a good part of that is inspiration. No one feels inspired by the party.”
There are some bright spots.