PHILADELPHIA — Democrats who came to Philadelphia this week fretting about party division say there is only one way to ensure Hillary Clinton wins in November: defining themselves as the party of national unity.
Confronted by a Republican nominee they view as a demagogue, Democrats say with a growing sense of urgency that it is imperative for their party to embrace racial diversity, inclusion and bipartisanship as the key to defeating Donald Trump.
CNN interviewed more than a dozen Clinton supporters at the Democratic National Convention who hope to see the former secretary of state inherit the presidency from Barack Obama, asking what they perceived to be the core messages of Clinton and Trump. Many described a feeling of alarm and fear at the extreme differences between the two presidential nominees.
After a tumultuous few days in Philadelphia rocked by outbursts from Bernie Sanders supporters, Democrats leave the convention confident that Clinton has found a positive theme of tolerance and championing minorities and the disenfranchised to counter Trump’s darker rhetoric.
“Hillary Clinton’s message is that we are much better together. And that is true — we don’t need to make America great. We are great already,” said William Frick, a Clinton delegate from South Carolina. “But we can be better when we work together.”
Frick, a 42-year-old attorney, described Trump’s message as: “Make America hate again.” “He wants to talk about a great time that existed in ‘Leave It to Beaver’ and not in reality,” he said.
Anita Green, a 25-year-old Bernie Sanders delegate from Montana, was a part of the “Bernie or Bust movement” until Tuesday night when Clinton was officially nominated. As Montana’s first transgender national delegate, Green said Clinton’s record on gay marriage isn’t perfect but that it has become clear to her that the alternative is a “demagogue” who would do nothing to help the LGBTQ community.
“We need to come together and unite. Unity trumps Trump,” Green said. “I would like to urge the queer community to rally behind Hillary Clinton.”
North Carolina State Rep. Rodney Moore, a Clinton delegate, said the visions of the two nominees couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.
“She’s offering a message of equal economic opportunity, access to healthcare, education opportunities for all children regardless of their zip code and strength in our nation and strength in our world,” Moore said of Clinton.
Trump’s candidacy, Moore said, is centered on hate, confusion and xenophobia: “That’s a message of narcissism and I can solve all of America’s problems and I don’t need any help to do it.”
The start of the Democratic convention was overshadowed by tensions within the party. Sanders supporters protested what they believed was a rigged election, frequently disrupting proceedings inside the Wells Fargo Center and staging a walk-out after Clinton’s formal nomination on Tuesday.
Democratic National Committee emails released over the weekend that showed committee officials favoring Clinton also led to the dramatic resignation of Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
But coming on the heels of the GOP convention last week in Cleveland, Democrats here also expounded on the theme of national unity and inclusion to draw sharp contrasts between the world views of Clinton and Trump.
The speeches and programming have represented communities of a wide range of religions, races and backgrounds, while at the same time, highlighting some of Trump’s most inflammatory statements and proposals, including his signature idea of building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and banning Muslims from entering the country.
Obama Wednesday night hailed his 2008 rival as the only candidate this election who would fight to protect the diversity and “common creed” that bonds Americans — “Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together: black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, young, old, gay, straight, men, women, folks with disabilities.”
The President then issued this grave warning: “Anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.”
Democratic strategist Paul Begala said the banner of “Stronger Together” has been an especially resonant message this election.
“At a time when the country seems to be coming apart, voters will respond to a call to come together,” Begala said.
Stephen Woodruff, a Sanders delegate from Northern Mariana Islands now supporting Clinton, said the message that has resonated most deeply with him this convention is “love trumps hate.”
“This is the message of the Democratic Party, that we all should be one, we work together, we support each other, we don’t divide against each other, we don’t fight against people just because of the color of their skin or their religion or their sexual preference,” Woodruff told CNN. “Basically, her message to the country is the exact opposite to Donald Trump’s message to the country.”