Caricatures by DonkeyHotey with Flickr Creative Commons License.
"Fear the Turtle" is the University of Maryland's slogan for rallying support at Terrapin sports events. In Philadelphia this week, Maryland delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be using a different slogan to get them energized: "Fear The Donald!"
What draws Democrats together faster than anything — be they Bernie Sanders delegates or Hillary Clinton supporters — is the pit-in-the-stomach fear Republican nominee Donald Trump, whose over-the-top rants have made him a lightning rod of controversy, will somehow win the November presidential election.
Trump's bleak, scary and angry rhetoric was on full display when he delivered his 75-minute acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week.
His deep pessimism and loud, sweeping denunciations of President Obama and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for everything that has gone wrong in the world made it clear that in Trump's mind, only he can act as this country's savior.
That ought to be more than enough to end internal Democratic divisions. It won't, though, because the liberal vs. pragmatic split within the party remains as deep as ever.
Sanders devotees have plenty of misgivings and wounded pride to prompt unruly demonstrations, bitter floor debates and pandemonium in the streets. They may not be content to leave Philadelphia united behind Clinton.
Trump could override all other concerns
Still, the Trump factor could override all other Democratic concerns once the general election campaign heats up after Labor Day.
By then, this week's spat over dismissive party e-mails about Bernie Sanders and party donors will be ancient history; controversial party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be long gone.
There are more important thing to worry about than liberal Democrats' misgivings about Clinton's middle-road approach and her middle-road running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.
As Sanders put it on Sunday, "To my mind, what is most important now is the defeat of the worst candidate for president that I have seen in my lifetime, Donald Trump, who is not qualified to be president by temperament, not qualified to be president by the ideas that he has brought forth."
For Sanders, "Fear The Donald" is real and paramount.
As Trump was delivering his long acceptance speech last week, the Vermont senator tweeted a series of zingers:
Those who voted for me will not support Trump who has made bigotry and divisiveness the cornerstone of his campaign.
Trump: "I alone can fix this." Is this guy running for president or dictator?
What a hypocrite! If Trump wants to "fix" trade he can start by making his products in the US, not low-wage countries abroad.
Trump's economic plan: $3.2 trillion in tax breaks for millionaires, cut programs for low-income Americans.
What psychiatrist Sigmund Freud referred to as "transference" is going on. Sanders no longer directs his ire and outrage at fellow Democrat Clinton or the DNC but at Republican Trump.
You can expect a lot of re-directed anger in Philadelphia, kicking off Monday night with kicking off with Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and First Lady Michelle Obama through Thursday night's acceptance speech.
Donald Trump is the perfect target. Indeed, Trump relishes being in the Democrats' bull's eye. Why? Because it keeps him in the spotlight.
Just spell his name right
A long time ago a veteran Maryland campaign warrior, George P. Mahoney, pulled me aside after I had written a critical article about his manipulative actions chairing the new State Lottery Commission. He wasn't mad at all, Mahoney said. "I don't care what you write about me as long as you spell my name right."
That, in a nutshell, is Donald Trump's approach to politics.
Any publicity, in his eyes, is good. He monopolizes the 24/7 news cycle of this Internet Age by posting outrageous tweets and Facebook screeds day and night.
It worked in the Republican primaries. Trump firmly believes in this precedent-setting method of communicating with voters.
Still, Trump will be a hard sell in heavily Democratic Maryland, though Republicans in Cleveland came away thinking otherwise.
Kendel Ehrlich, wife of former GOP Gov. Bob Ehrlich, saw Trump as a "change agent" in this election versus Clinton representing the status quo. That, she feels, could determine the outcome.
Other delegates said Trump appeals to blue-collar Democrats — the sort of (D) voters who helped elect Ronald Reagan.
Maryland daunting for Trump
Still, the situation in Maryland is daunting for Trump.
State Republicans already are split in their loyalty to the GOP nominee, with Gov. Larry Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford opposed to Trump. That will hurt statewide organizing and fund-raising efforts.
Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party under former Del. Bruce Poole has had a resurgence in preparing a well-orchestrated get-out-the-vote effort.
The Republicans' nearly 2-1 voter registration deficit hurts badly, too.
So while Trump is expected to do well in under-populated, rural Maryland and in outlying suburbs, Clinton should have a lock on Maryland's major population centers, especially in Baltimore City and the Washington suburbs.
The big challenges for Democrats lie in two areas:
1) Leaving Philadelphia determined to make sure Trump gets trumped in Maryland, and
2) Ensuring a large, perhaps record-breaking, turnout of Democrats in Central Maryland. That's where elections are won or lost in the Free State.
Eight years ago, Republican John McCain got less than 37 percent of the Maryland vote. Four years later, Republican Mitt Romney's vote total dropped below 36 percent.
November's election looks like a steep, uphill climb for Maryland Republicans. But their candidate is sui generis — a unique, charismatic populist willing to break the mold in presidential politics.
That poses a unique challenge for Maryland Democrats, a point that will be hammered home repeatedly in Philadelphia this week.
Barry Rascovar's blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org