The White House is downplaying violent acts and threats directly linked to the Democratic presidential primary , arguing intense passions have given way to party unity in past election cycles.
Just several days after chaos broke out at the Nevada Democratic Party’s state convention and the party’s chairwoman receive a list of threats, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the president has no plans to directly appeal for Democrats to calm down, or to ask its two presidential candidates to ask for the same.
Chairs reportedly were thrown in Nevada on Saturday and medics were requested to assist convention goers caught on video lying injured or shaken up on the venue’s floor.
Chairwoman Roberta Lange , a longtime Democratic operative and confidante of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, has faced a barrage of attacks not only on social media but also by voicemail and in text messages, some of which have been reviewed by Roll Call. Those communications used derogatory terms in reference to her, and several informed that her critics knew where she lives, works and dines.
The state party’s lawyer felt it necessary to write the Democratic National Committee to warn of violent outbursts at the national convention in Philadelphia later this year.
But Earnest tried to tamp down such worries on Wednesday.
“We have seen that the party primaries typically are, particularly ones that are contested as passionately as this one has been, that there are going to be strong feelings on both sides,” he said.
“But I think one of the lessons of the election in 2008 ” — which featured a heated battle between then-Sen. Barack Obama and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton — “is not to confuse the passion in the primary for disinterest in the general election,” Earnest said. “I think if anything, the reason that people are so passionate about the current primary processes is they understand the stakes in the general election.
“So that certainly was true in 2008,” he said. “We will see if it is true in 2016.”
Much of the blame for the recent skirmishes has fallen on Bernie Sanders , I-Vt., and his supporters. There have been calls for him to drop out of the race and urge his backers to support Clinton, who is within 90 delegates of the 2,383 needed to lock up the Democratic nomination.
A Sanders spokesman told the Associated Press that the campaign had no connection to the violence at the weekend convention or the threats to the party chairwoman.
White House aides say Obama looks forward to making a strong case for his party’s nominee — after the primary process plays out.
They have also tried to play down any notion that a prolonged Clinton-Sanders contest could hurt the eventual nominee during what promises to be a bruising general election fight with Trump.
“I’m confident that the president’s engagement in the general election will be useful in sharpening up that case and he certainly looks forward to the opportunity to do it,” Earnest said Wednesday.
“But I also think that President Obama benefits from his own personal involvement in the last hotly contested Democratic presidential primary that, yes, the issues are a little different and the debates are always a little bit different, but no less intense,” Obama’s top spokesman said. “They certainly were intense, particularly … in May of 2008.”
The White House is holding its cards close on just when Obama might intervene in an attempt to unify Clinton and Sanders supporters.
Asked if the White House is concerned scenes like Nevada or a little girl’s pro-Hillary sign reportedly being ripped up in Los Angeles are indications of irreconcilable damage to the party, Earnest replied: “I don’t share those concerns.”
“You now, obviously, there will be a need for Democrats to come together in the general election,” he said. “And the president will be making that case. But right now, we’re still probably not in the middle of — I think it’s probably nearing the end — a nationwide, competitive Democratic primary process.”
Some Democratic lawmakers and operatives say they anticipate Obama sitting out the presidential election until after the party’s July convention.
For now, his aides are at least expressing public confidence that history will repeat itself.
In the 2008 cycle , after Obama snatched the Democratic nomination from Clinton, “there were not an insignificant amount” of Democrats vowing to raise money for and support the GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. That, however, never materialized and Obama won his first term.
But some Democrats are getting worried, including one operative who this week admitted to not taking the Nevada dust-up seriously enough until news of the threats against Lange surfaced.