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Commentary: Those angry Democratic delegates could decide 2016

Bernie Sanders at DNC
Bernie Sanders at DNC 32:04

In the end, it was a successful night for the Democratic Party. The speakers generally got better as the night went on. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders gave solid speeches, particularly the latter. Michelle Obama was near perfect.

Before all that, though, it was lousy. The irritating Democratic tendency to trot out victims whose identities don't seem to go much beyond their victimhood was on display. Sarah Silverman got heckled and responded by taunting the hecklers, which made the national convention of the incumbent political party look for a moment like an open-mic night at the Comedy Cellar, and probably didn't do much for the cause of party unity.

Michelle Obama DNC analysis 13:15

But of course the real big question mark of this convention after its opening day is what Bernie's insurgent progressives will wind up doing in the next few days and months. The antipathy towards Hillary in Philadelphia has caught much of the media by surprise. The Democrats, after all, were supposed to have the more placid convention, while Cleveland was supposed to see the riots. That second prediction didn't come to pass, and there may still be reason to wonder about the first.

Yes, the speakers were lockstep behind Hillary, including (and most importantly) Sanders. It's safe to assume we'll see more of that all this week - nobody will get up on that stage and tell the assembled to "vote the conscience" a la Ted Cruz last week. That discrepancy, however, highlights the major difference between the dissidents in the two parties, and one that should be worrisome to Democrats.

The #NeverTrump movement is made up largely of professional conservatives -- pundits and pollsters and strategists and the like. It's a top-down phenomenon, and therefore ineffective yet highly visible to us media folk: #NeverTrump is real to us because we talk to them on Twitter and run into them in greenrooms. Meanwhile, plenty of the delegates and loyal GOP voters in Cleveland wanted another nominee, but have since fallen in line.

Not so with the Democratic delegates. Many of them obviously despise Hillary, and even if they wind up voting for her, they're voicing their displeasure now. The liberal pundit class has always been generally pro-Hillary, while the lefty resistance is made up of the party's grassroots supporters. As a result, the latter gets less attention from the media, who don't know many of them so intimately as they do the #NeverTrump guys.

Yet it's those Democratic dissidents who will likely be the bigger factor this election.

The problem with grassroots revolts, as opposed to what we've seen with #NeverTrump, is that candidates ultimately need foot soldiers more than they need pundits. Trump can win without the support of the Weekly Standard or the National Review, but Hillary might see her chances evaporate if Bernie voters in Nevada and Ohio decide she's just not worth fighting for.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren's DNC speech 19:48

The good news for Hillary is that there's not much polling indicating Bernieacs won't vote for her. Plus, the Democratic Party is an efficient machine, and will almost certainly have a much better turnout operation than Trump's GOP. Bernie did all he could to convince his supporters that Clinton is worth backing, that they can be proud to vote for her. Same thing with Michelle Obama, the last truly unifying figure the Democrats have left. Both took some on degree of risk in embracing Hillary so closely on Monday night, but both did it effectively, telling the crowd that they should happily vote for her, and not just against Trump.

Still, though, what we saw in Philadelphia on Monday wasn't Democratic voters who needed a nudge to get behind Hillary - we saw a non-insignificant part of the floor in open revolt against a candidate they despise. Over at FiveThirtyEight, Harry Enten has calculated that Clinton would get a one percent bump if Sanders voters who are currently going for third-party candidates come back to the fold. That may not sound like much, but given the race is currently so close, one percent could make all the difference.

Maybe these Sanders voters, the ones we saw chant "war hawk" as Cory Booker spoke, will fall in line after this week's airing of grievances. Or maybe we just got a good glimpse of the small constituency that will decide this election for Donald Trump.

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