Finley: Unlike GOP, Dems depart on a roll

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News


Watching Bernie Sanders give his farewell address to Democratic convention delegates from Michigan on Thursday morning, I couldn’t help thinking, “That should be Donald Trump.”

By that I mean it should have been Trump in Cleveland last week playing the role of the vanquished usurper, urging his heartbroken loyalists to abandon their failed uprising and rejoin the Republican Party.

The key difference between the back-to-back Democratic and Republican conventions is that in Philadelphia, the party establishment turned away the Sanders revolt and kept control of the process, while in Cleveland, the defeated party regulars had to either concede to the Trump rebellion or get out of the way.

Many of the most firmly established Republicans chose the latter.

The practical impact was that the Democrats pulled off a convention that, despite the stubborn Bernie or Bust distraction, played out according to script.

Every big-name Democrat was in Philadelphia, and a good number of them were on the stage. It was an all-star lineup of the party’s heavy hitters and a dazzling array of Hollywood celebrities. Off stage, suites in the Wells Fargo Center were filled with eager Democratic donors.

In Cleveland, Republicans struggled to muster a meager first day speaker’s list. Throughout the week, they found it nearly impossible to recruit star power. Scott Baio has some nostalgic appeal, but he’s no Elizabeth Banks.

And look who was missing: None of the Bushes showed up, so the delegates and television audience missed hearing from the GOP’s two living former presidents; as well as its most recent presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and U.S. Sen. John McCain, both targets of Trump’s insults. John Kasich, Republican governor of the convention’s host state, didn’t appear in Quicken Loans Arena to welcome delegates to Ohio.

Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio spoke by video feed and offered tepid support of Trump. Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz gave a long and spirited speech, but made headlines for not finishing with an endorsement of the Republican nominee.

Perhaps more significant, some of the GOP’s steadiest funders, including the Koch brothers, not only avoided the convention but haven’t written checks to Trump.

Democrats leave Philadelphia with their political machinery clicking like a sewing machine, its standard bearers ready to spread out across the country and stump for Hillary Clinton.

Republicans exited Cleveland a hot mess, without a fully functioning infrastructure to exploit Trump’s respectable convention bump.

Trump will be fighting in the key state of Florida without former Gov. Jeb Bush at his side and perhaps without Rubio. He’ll battle for another key state, Ohio, without the popular Kasich. Wherever he goes in Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder will go somewhere else. Across the country, Republican conscientious objectors will sit this election out.

So far, not a single major Democrat has turned away from Clinton.

Speaking to the Michigan delegates, Sanders bragged, “We took on the establishment, we took on the super delegates.” But he didn’t win.

And while Democrats know they may lose some of the more embittered Sanders supporters to third parties or write-in candidates, they are betting those who started out as Democrats will remain with the party on Election Day.

Meanwhile, with Sanders out of the way, Clinton has more room to move to the middle, a wide open space ripe for claiming. That shift toward moderation was evident in the final nights of the conventions.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who also spoke to state delegates Thursday, consoled the Sanders’ supporters, saying, “You have changed the course of this country.”

But they didn’t substantially change the Democratic Party. And that’s the real contrast between what happened in Philadelphia and what happened in Cleveland.

As they filed out of the hotel conference room where their hero spoke, Sanders’ disappointed followers were urged by Democratic officials to stay energized and active in the party, to make a difference from within.

Take a look at what’s happened to the Republican Party, and be careful what you wish for, Democrats.

Nolan Finley’s book “A Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice” is available from Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.