PHILADELPHIA — The Republican National Convention kicked off last week with some serious soul-searching about the fate of the GOP. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Democrats were asking similar questions about their own party’s political future.
As South Carolina delegates arrived in Philadelphia on Sunday morning, word was spreading about the thousands of leaked emails revealing potential anti-Bernie Sanders bias from DNC officials, including the senior staff of DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. By that afternoon, Wasserman Schultz, a U.S. Congresswoman from Florida, announced she would resign as chairwoman by the week’s end.
The unexpected revelations hit some South Carolinians hard.
“It’s unfortunate that (Wasserman Schultz) will not be able to enjoy the fruits of her very good and hard work,” Don Fowler, a fixture of South Carolina Democratic politics who served as DNC chairman in the mid-1990s, told The Post and Courier Sunday.
Wasserman Schultz no longer will deliver extended remarks at the convention, and it’s unclear whether she can even open and close convention proceedings without being an unwanted distraction. She was scheduled to address the S.C. delegation at breakfast Tuesday morning, but that now seems unlikely.
“It makes me want to cry,” said Fowler. “It does. It looks so bad to the DNC. This event, this convention, is supposed to be an exercise in peace and love and stimulation and joy and all that. Having this happen, in this fashion, just reflects really badly on the chair. It both looks and is bad.”
The announcement of Wasserman Schultz’s impending resignation produced a mixture of anger and vindication from the pro-Sanders contingent within the S.C. Democratic Party. The state has 14 pledged Sanders delegates, plus a number of delegation guests in town to show support for their candidate.
“This is my first political convention, so I’m excited. I’m also cautious about some of the things that have come out about the DNC emails,” said Regina Fields, a Sanders delegate from the second Congressional district.
Upon hearing that Wasserman Schultz had announced her resignation, Fields said she was “very pleased” with that outcome. But Fields also said she was prepared to support Clinton when the presumptive Democratic nominee officially takes the title. “I think unity can be achieved here,” she said.
The task of unifying the Democratic Party has been a daunting one this year. Bitter factions have formed surrounding Clinton and Sanders, with each side distrustful of the other. Sanders said repeatedly throughout the campaign that the DNC under Wasserman Schultz’s leadership had “rigged” the game in Clinton’s favor. Many Democrats, like Fowler, reject that claim while also refusing to condone the tone and tenor of the DNC emails.
A major sore spot between the two camps has revolved around the issue of “superdelegates,” also a source of conflict in 2008. This year, the DNC Rules Committee voted to establish a “unity” commission to explore ways to dilute the power of elected officials and party standard-bearers in future presidential nominating contests.
Colleen Condon, a Charleston County Councilwoman and member of the DNC Rules Committee, said she hoped this modest rules change would go a long way toward bringing the party together ahead of the DNC, which officially begins Monday afternoon.
“We’ve got to find a way to pull the Bernie voters in,” Condon said. “It’s important that we do so. It’s important that we have a DNC that represents everybody.”
South Carolina delegate Kathy Hensley, also of the Second District, said she remembered feeling outnumbered in 2008 when she remained a Clinton surrogate as others flocked to Barack Obama. “I understand exactly where the Bernie people are coming from,” Hensley said. “However, I had been around politics for a long time, and I realized that I didn’t need to make trouble.”
By Sunday evening, S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison issued a statement thanking Wasserman Schultz for her service and calling her choice to resign a “selfless decision.” Earlier in the day, he’d told The Post and Courier he hoped the chairwoman would address concerns and share a plan for how to resolve them.
As for any discord within the South Carolina delegation specifically, Harrison said he saw its delegation as far more functional than some others.
“I know some of my friends in other delegations, this may not be the situation,” Harrison said. “There may be tense conversations and relations there. But with South Carolina, it really is more like a family. And like every family, we may disagree about certain things, but at the end of the day we’re still a family.”
Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.