Divisions among Democrats are deepening over Sen. Bernie Sanders’s response to a chaotic state convention in Nevada, sparking fresh questions about how, exactly, the party might put itself back together again.
Some top Democratic leaders have denounced Mr. Sanders’s reluctance to rein in his supporters after they disrupted the party’s Nevada convention. The Vermont senator has punched back with a stern warning aimed at the Democratic establishment. And with primary season entering the homestretch, unifying the Democratic Party now appears to be a steeper challenge than anticipated.
The animus between Team Sanders and Democratic officials was on public display late Tuesday night when the mere mention of party leaders spurred a chorus of boos from the crowd at the senator’s rally in California. Mr. Sanders and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz sparred from afar, exposing fissures in the party at the very moment that the party’s presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton, is seeking a united front.
At issue is the behavior of some Sanders backers at last weekend’s convention, where disputes over delegate rules escalated to chair-throwing and shouting. Later, the state party chair was harassed with ominous threats and obscene comments.
Facing pressure to condemn such actions, Mr. Sanders responded defiantly, saying that his supporters had not been treated with fairness and respect. He offered a brief denunciation of any and all forms of violence but dismissed complaints from Nevada party leaders as “nonsense.”
Some top Democrats initially had predicted that Mr. Sanders could help ease the simmering tensions that were spilling into the open. But by Tuesday night, Ms. Wasserman Schultz was making the rounds on cable news, castigating the presidential candidate for adding more fuel to the fire.
“Unfortunately, the senator’s response was anything but acceptable,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz told CNN, adding that Mr. Sanders’s statement did not amount to an unequivocal condemnation of violence and intimidation.
The senator appeared to excuse actions that are unacceptable, she said. She called on Mr. Sanders to make clear that such behavior is intolerable and take steps to prevent it.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) expressed disappointment as well, suggesting that Mr. Sanders had offered little more than a “silly statement.”
“Bernie is better than that,” Mr. Reid said.
For his part, Mr. Sanders signaled no shift in tone late Tuesday as he a celebrated a victory in the Oregon Democratic primary and a too-close-to-call result in Kentucky. His comfortable win in one primary and likely narrow loss in another did not dent Mrs. Clinton’s commanding delegate lead or slow her march toward the Democratic nomination.
During an hour-long speech in California, Mr. Sanders delivered a message to Democratic leaders, urging them to “do the right thing” and welcome into the fold people who are prepared to fight for economic and social change.
“I say to the leadership of the Democratic Party: Open the doors. Let the people in,” Mr. Sanders said.
He deemed maintaining the party’s status quo structure “a very sad and tragic option.”
Mr. Sanders’s public critique of the party and some Democrats’ obvious frustration with him are emerging just as Mrs. Clinton edges toward clinching the nomination and prepares to urge all Democrats to coalesce around her campaign.
During the last several months, Mr. Sanders has clashed repeatedly with the Democratic National Committee and with Ms. Wasserman Schultz in particular. But Tuesday’s messy, intraparty squabble comes at an inopportune time late in the primary season, and it points to perhaps more deep-seated schisms than previously believed.
With a crowded field and the specter of a contested convention, the GOP was long expected to be the party divided this year. But Donald Trump has nearly wrapped up the Republican nomination now and has begun the work of winning over detractors in the GOP.
Mrs. Clinton has built a nearly insurmountable delegate lead, but Mr. Sanders’s showing in Tuesday’s primaries and the tensions laid bare in the feud over Nevada have highlighted how much work Democrats have to do to bridge the divides within their own party.