Was Nevada Democratic convention fight sign of greater party divide?

Tuesday saw Democrats in Kentucky and Oregon go to the polls, but the real electoral drama unfolded over the weekend, as Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ supporters clashed at the Nevada state Democratic convention, possibly signaling a greater divide within the party. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Susan Page of USA Today and Jon Ralston of Ralston Live for more.

Read the Full Transcript

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    We turn to the race for the White House.

    On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton will face off in primaries tonight in Kentucky and Oregon. But over the weekend, Clinton and Sanders supporters were at odds in Nevada at the state's Democratic Convention, potentially signaling a greater divide in the party.

    Here to help break down the divide, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at USA Today, and from Las Vegas, Jon Ralston, host of "Ralston Live."

    Susan Page, let's start with — we're having this conversation because it was important, but even just today, there were a flurry of communications throughout the Democratic Party about the tone and tenor of what the candidates should be doing, what their supporters should be doing. What happened?

  • SUSAN PAGE, USA Today:

    Well, we saw the Democratic national chairman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, put out a statement saying the campaigns need to address this, this is unacceptable, it's troubling, what happened in Las Vegas.

    And then you had Bernie Sanders put out a statement that was pretty defiant. He said he was against violence, of course, but he basically continued his kind of bill of particulars about grievances about how the DNC and others are treating him and his supporters and not treating them fairly, he says.

    And then we had Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, decry that Sanders hadn't done more to address this in a serious way. The concern is not just what happened over the weekend in Las Vegas. The concern is, is this a precursor to a divided Democratic Party as they head into the national convention in Philadelphia?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Jon Ralston, fill us in on what happened over the weekend in the great state of Nevada.

  • JON RALSTON, Ralston Live:

    Yes, it wasn't such a great state over the weekend, I guess.

    It was a raucous convention. All conventions are raucous to some extent, but the Bernie Sanders folks went into that convention determined to cause trouble because they thought that the state party, which essentially is Harry Reid, was being unfair to them.

    They filed a lawsuit beforehand. Reid tried to tamp it down, got Bernie Sanders to put out a unity statement. But that was just a fool's errand. It had no chance of working. And so the problem for the Bernie Sanders folks, they had no perspective on this, is that they lost. They lost the caucus on February 20. They managed to flood some county conventions, but they didn't get their people out.

    They didn't fill out the close to 500 delegate slots for the state convention. They were outnumbered, got overruled in the changes they were trying to make. And the real irony here is, this was only over a few delegates that wouldn't have mattered.

    And what Susan said is the most important point: How much of a harbinger is this of what's to come in Philadelphia in July? I know a lot of people like to think of Nevada as some kind of alien world, but I think Nevadans are pretty much like people everywhere else. And that could be a real problem for the Democrats in Philadelphia.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Susan, we were expecting perhaps a contested convention on the Republican side, the unexpected to happen, and now Donald Trump seems to be walking slowly towards what might be a coronation. Right?

    But this — is this — what we saw were videos from cell phones of people, Bernie Sanders supporters yelling, recount, recount in Nevada. Is this what we're likely to see in Cleveland?

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    It's interesting.

    The divisions are much more serious in the Republican Party, even though there is no question about Donald — there is longer any question that Donald Trump is going to be to nominee. There are real questions about, what does the Republican Party stand for going forward? And he has not been endorsed by the top Republican official in the country yet.

    So there are real divisions in the Republican Party, but there are real divisions in the Democratic Party as well. Some of them go to policy. You know, there's some policy differences between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but a lot of them go to kind of, who do you want to get things done? Do you want the most experienced candidate? That would be Hillary Clinton.

    Or do you want somebody who describes himself as a revolutionary, who is going to really shake things up? And Bernie Sanders has captured the energy of this party. Hillary Clinton has won a majority of the votes in the primaries. We shouldn't forget that. She's very, very likely to be nominated as the nominee at the convention.

    But Bernie Sanders is the guy who has the enthusiasm and the energy, and especially with young voters, so he's not a force to be denied at this point. And I think the Clinton campaign is still figuring out how to deal with that and how to emerge with a united party to deal and face Donald Trump.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Jon Ralston, we have had folks from both the campaigns on the program, saying, you know what, this will sort itself out. This is part of the process.

    How much of this is structural? Right now, Bernie Sanders supporters still see Hillary as the immediate competitor, whereas Hillary kind of sees — she has sort of pivoted and sees Donald Trump as the eventual competitor and that's where she's focusing on?

  • JON RALSTON:

    Yes, I think it's a question of depth, as opposed to breadth, in this sense.

    I don't think this has anything to do with policy, what we saw in Nevada and what's going on across the country among the Bernie Sanders supporters. Sanders tapped into something in this country, there's no doubt. You can call it anti-establishment. You can say that it's millennials getting involved and wanting to make change.

    But what we saw in Nevada and what I think you're seeing now is frustration and anger with a process that they see as slanted against them and their man. And that is very, very difficult to control once it's unleashed.

    And I think you see that Bernie Sanders now doesn't think — doesn't think he should control it at this point, because, as you may have seen earlier, he put out that defiant statement about what happened in Nevada.

    And I'm not sure he's going to be able to control it in July either, even if he is standing up on stage in Philadelphia holding arm in arm with Hillary Clinton declaring unity. I'm not sure he can control it. The question, though, is how broad is it?

    I think some of these feelings are very deep, but it is 10 percent of Bernie Sanders supporters, 20, 30? We won't know that until late July.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And how long does it take for them to bury the hatchet, whichever way it goes? They have been pretty tense over the past few weeks and months. It's not just one convention, one week. They can say, we're all good, let's go ahead and attack Donald Trump.

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    You know it's going to take some time. As you say, you're not going to turn on a dime and have the Bernie Sanders supporters say, OK, we're OK with Hillary Clinton.

    In other words, in the exit polls just a week ago in West Virginia, about four in 10 of Bernie Sanders voters in West Virginia said they would vote — if Bernie Sanders wasn't the nominee, if Hillary Clinton turned out to be the nominee, they would vote for Donald Trump in November.

    Now, that's a number that I think probably gets reduced if Bernie Sanders endorses Hillary Clinton, is enthusiastic about her as I think a lot of people expect him to ultimately be. But it takes some time to persuade people who are now battling with one another that they ought to join forces and be on the same side.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Jon, how much of it — in the people that you have spoken to, how much of it is about the two candidates? As you said, it's not so much about the policy right now.

  • JON RALSTON:

    Yes, I do think it becomes very personal.

    And, you know, campaigns get very intense. I think this started almost as a lark with some people who were supporting Bernie Sanders as a so-called protest against the anointment of Hillary Clinton. But now it's become more real, as he did better than people thought he was going to do, as he's won all of these late states.

    And now I do think there is a real anger percolating out there among the Sanders folks that, wait a second, he's being cheated. Now, that's not what happened in Nevada, no matter how they're portraying it. And the fact that Sanders was unwilling to say, you know, I lost fair and square, and — than play into what his campaign out here is saying happened, I think it's a very, very bad sign.

    And, again, I do — I have very little confidence that what he has unleashed can be so easily controlled, no matter how skillful Hillary Clinton or Debbie Wasserman Schultz or any of the rest of the Democratic establishment thinks they are.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Jon Ralston of "Ralston Live" joining us from Nevada, and Susan Page of USA Today, thanks so much.

  • SUSAN PAGE:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment