PHILADELPHIA — Moments after the convention was gaveled into session, Hillary Keyes, a Bernie Sanders delegate, broke down crying.
“I’ve never been more inspired by someone in my entire life,” Keyes said as tears welled behind her glasses. She’d been asked about Sanders’s endorsement of Clinton.
“He speaks from the heart. He’s the real deal. He hits me right in my heart. And as he said, ‘When you hurt, I hurt.’”
Then her voice deepened and turned ominous. She leaned in closer.
“Most of us here, we’re not going to vote for Hillary Clinton,” she said.
Keyes wasn’t an anomaly. The first day of the Democratic National Convention went off with all the grace of a car accident—thanks in large part to emotive Bernie Sanders supporters who couldn’t make peace with the fact that their guy lost. But as the night wore on, there were fewer boos and louder cheers. With it, the signs diversified from “I’m With Her” to “Michelle” to Sanders’s famous “A Future to Believe In.”
When the Vermont senator addressed a jam-packed house late on Monday night, many of his backers openly wept—aware their loyalty had, finally, outlasted his campaign.
“Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States,” Sanders emphatically said. “The choice is not even close.” He went on to make an extensive case for why Clinton is the only acceptable choice in the race, particularly emphasizing the vacant Supreme Court seats she could fill.
But as the packed house slowly poured out of the Wells Fargo Arena, it remained unclear just how many Sanders supporters would actually drink the Kool-Aid.
Clinton now faces a challenge: courting as many of Bernie’s faithful as possible, while simultaneously reaching out to the moderate voters in swing counties that can often decide presidential elections. If tonight was any evidence, she has her work cut out for her—and it’s going to be complicated.
And the inopportunely timed leak of Democratic National Committee staffers’ emails has only fueled their ire. Though Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced three hours before go-time that she wouldn’t gavel in the convention, Sanders supporters in the California delegation still chanted “WIKILEAKS! WIKILEAKS! WIKILEAKS!” when the convention proceedings were beginning.
When the convention’s presiding officer read Clinton’s name into nomination, they were especially vociferous—the California delegation, in particular, where Sanders fans yelled so loudly they nearly drowned out the speaker.
“Lock her up!” some chanted, echoing a refrain popular at last week’s RNC. “Lock her up!”
Some delegates knocked their wrists together over their heads. Shawnee Badger, a Sanders delegate from California, explained—between “WikiLeaks!” chants—that this symbolized handcuffs, and signified support for Clinton’s incarceration.
During other Democrats’ speeches, Bernie backers in a handful of delegations chanted, “No TPP! No TPP!” In one instance, this took place while Rep. Elijah Cummings was discussing his dead father. The chants rarely had any connection to the substance of the speeches they interrupted.
Sanders supporters with whom The Daily Beast spoke throughout the day varied in intensity—from potential Hillary converts to diehard Bernie-or-Bust types.
“A ham sandwich could beat Donald Trump,” said Melissa Arab, a Michigan delegate for Bernie. “And Hillary cannot beat Donald Trump.”
She added that she plans to vote for Sanders in November instead of Clinton.
“She’s crooked,” she said. “Nobody trusts her.”
Others were agnostic, including Alicia Leinberger, a Sanders delegate from Wisconsin who, like many Sanders backers, sported a green Robin Hood hat.
“Robin Hood!” she explained. “The idea is to take from the rich and spread it out.”
As for whether Hillary Clinton could pull off such a heist, she said she was undecided.
“I’m going to do what Bernie tells me to do,” she said, “because I trust him.”
Statistics show that the vast majority of Bernie voters plan to back Clinton in November. In particular, Pew Research has found that 90 percent of Democratic primary voters who consistently backed Sanders say they will back Clinton. But that data didn’t do much good for the convention speakers—especially during the first half—whose speeches were augmented with boos and chants of “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!”
Even comedian Sarah Silverman, who backed Sanders in the primaries and took to the stage aiming to persuade his fans to support Clinton, got a dose of it. During her prime-time speech, Sanders supporters chanted “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!”
“Thank God they can fix this in post,” she said, joking that the pro-Bernie heckling could be scrubbed later on.
It would be harder to scrub their chants from Sanders’s speech itself. When the erstwhile candidate came onstage, they cheered and chanted for several minutes, awkwardly postponing the beginning of his speech. Tears streamed down several California delegates’ faces. One young woman stood stoically in the middle of the stairway with a piece over her mouth that read “SILENCED BY THE DNC!”
A host of chants interrupted his address; at various points, delegates chanted “Superpredators!” and “Single-payer!” During Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s warm-up for Sanders, some hollered, “Goldman Sachs! Goldman Sachs! Goldman Sachs!”
Robert Shearer, a California delegate, said he loathed the idea of backing anyone other than Sanders.
“I’m going to encourage people to vote with love and not fear, the way I encourage people to live their lives,” he said.
Jamar Jefferson, another California delegate for Sanders, said he plans to run for president in 2020 or 2024—and that he will show more loyalty to his supporters than Sanders did.
“At the end of the day, if you love someone, you ride with them,” he continued. “You go down with them and you suffer the consequences with them, because it’s about the group.”
And he said he dreads explaining to his friends back home why Sanders endorsed Clinton.
“We wasted our time promising change that will never come,” he said.
Sanders himself, of course, disagreed. He maintained his message with astonishing discipline, emphasizing that he does not agree with Clinton on many issues but that not participating in the election this year is unfathomable.
“If you don’t believe this election is important, if you think you can sit it out, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump would nominate and what that would mean to civil liberties, equal rights, and the future of our country,” Sanders warned.
And even though some of the most ardent Sanders superfans are not jumping at the opportunity to fill in Clinton’s name on the ballot, the looming threat of Trump did seem particularly grave.
Norman Solomon, national coordinator for the Bernie Delegates Network, an organization holding daily meetings in Philadelphia to push for platform changes and even an alternative vice presidential candidate, told The Daily Beast that it made sense for Sanders to back Clinton in order to help Democrats win in November.
“I think it’s totally smart and justified,” he said when asked what he thought of people who booed Sanders earlier in the day for saying they should get behind the presumptive nominee.
Still, even though they were united in their common enemy, the wounds were still fresh and the delegates were not done trying to figure out a way to improve the ticket.
When asked if the Bernie Delegates Network had plans to try to oust Kaine, Solomon wryly texted The Daily Beast: “Stay tuned.”