Chaos or Calm? As Hillary Clinton Accepts the Nomination, What to Watch For at the Democratic Convention

Showtime's "The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth" pundit Mark McKinnon gives us his take from Philadelphia.
The Circus
Hillary Clinton

The Democratic National Convention got off to a bit of a rocky start on Monday in Philadelphia. But campaign strategist Mark McKinnon, one of the stars of Showtime’s political series “The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth,” predicts that the rest of the week will go smoother.

The week began with a leak of embarrassing Democratic National Committee emails that led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Armed with the suggestion that the organization derided the Bernie Sanders campaign, supporters of the candidate expressed their displeasure with chants and boos.

READ MORE: Violence or Unity? Five More Headlines That Might Happen at the Republican Convention

Then came First Lady Michelle Obama, whose speech earned raves and seemed to trigger some unity inside the Wells Fargo Center.

“Michelle Obama gave one of the best speeches I’ve ever seen,” McKinnon told IndieWire on Tuesday. “Not just political speech but any speech. It electrified the place, and really served as the glue.”

The Circus
Mark McKinnon, “The Circus”Showtime

We asked McKinnon to give us his take on how the DNC is going so far, and what to expect as the week continues. Here’s what he said.

Clinton’s goal: Unite the party by the end of the week.

“You can’t win a general election unless you have a solidly unified party,” McKinnon said. “Historically the nominees have to get at least 90% of the base of their own parties in order to win. That will be a key indicator coming out of these conventions. Donald Trump went into his only having 75% of the support of Republicans. He has got to get that number above 90, and so does Hillary Clinton. I think [Monday] was an important day for the Democrats. There was a lot of division and protest early in the day but by the end of the evening, everybody was singing kumbaya. That’s a good sign if it holds up throughout the week.”

Bernie Sanders supporters are finally – finally – getting over their candidate’s loss.

“There may be some diehard supporters,” McKinnon said. “But I would say overall by the end of the night most of the Bernie people recognized that instead of charging the castle they needed to start guarding the gates.”

Michelle Obama: The Democrats’ rock star.

“It was Michelle Obama who just lit it up,” he said, “and really made it bigger than politics in a way. That’s how it felt in the hall. I think that was a catalyzing moment that should get some credit for having unified everyone last night.”

The Circus
“The Circus”Showtime

The RNC was more “erratic,” but the DNC has been more “chaotic.”

“It was surprising yesterday how chaotic and angry a lot of the delegates were,” McKinnon said. “We came out of Cleveland, which was supposed to be the chaotic and violent convention, and it was pretty chaotic and violent here. Definitely more so than Cleveland. I think they may have burned that match. It feels today that the Bernie delegates are pretty much on board and it should be for the rest of the week pretty smooth sailing. The program went solidly last night and I think they’re running a pretty good show at the convention. It was a little erratic last week in Cleveland. But the Democrats had an A-list of celebrities and an A-list of speakers. They’ve got Obama, they’ve got Biden, Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama. If they keep it all on schedule and avoid any big mishaps and violence or protests it should be a good week.”

The email leaks story has subsided, but remains a headache for Democrats.

“The good news is they cauterized the wound,” McKinnon said. “That story could have dominated the full week unless they addressed it forcefully and resolved it yesterday, which they did. Although I think everybody, especially [acting committee chair] Donna Brazile understand that this story is likely to have a lot more legs. And continue to be a story as more emails are revealed.”

READ MORE: Stephen Colbert Brings ‘Hunger Games’ Persona To DNC, Tries To Rush The Stage

Keep an eye on the “First Family dynamic” between the Clintons and the Obamas.

“That’s 25 years of Democratic history between the two families,” he said. “The Democrats aren’t normally dynastic but that’s a pretty dynastic umbrella there. And the history between the two families, that makes an interesting drama narrative between the Clintons and the Obamas.”

Will Hillary Clinton be hurt or helped by the speakers who precede her?

“I think the challenge is, Hillary will have to give a speech after three great speakers: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama,” McKinnon said. “That’s a tough challenge for her to rise to the occasion and meet the bar. On the other hand, because the others are so great and she’s not as well known [as a speaker], the expectations are low.”

Don’t pay attention to the polls. Yet.

“They don’t mean anything,” he said. “You’ll have to wait until mid-August for all the post-convention bounces to settle out. Take a breath and don’t hyperventilate. But when the polls do settle out in mid-August, they’ll roughly stay there until the debates.”

“The Circus,” which also features Bloomberg Politics managing editors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Showtime.

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