The theme of the second night of the Democratic National Convention was “Leadership matters,” and the Democratic Party leaned heavily on those with prior government experience to make the case that Joe Biden is better equipped than Donald Trump to handle the responsibility of the presidency.
Here are four takeaways from Day 2 of the DNC.
The old guard comes out in force
In the 77-year-old Biden, Democrats have chosen the oldest presidential nominee in U.S. history. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, 74, is the oldest person ever to become president, and he often portrays Biden as too diminished mentally to be able to run the country.
On Tuesday, Democrats attempted to turn that argument back on Trump. They showcased speakers with decades of experience in government, all hammering home the message that he has done a terrible job in office.
A fixture at Democratic National Conventions since the 1980s, former President Bill Clinton was given less than five minutes to speak on Tuesday, and he used it to criticize Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have just 4 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s COVID cases,’” Clinton said. “Our unemployment rate is more than twice as high as South Korea’s, two and a half times the United Kingdom’s, and more than three times Japan’s.”
Trump tweeted shortly after Clinton spoke, insisting, as he has many times before, that the number of cases in the United States is high because it has conducted more tests than any other country. That argument is disproved by the fact that U.S. also has more deaths than any other country.
Tell the Dems that we have more Cases because we do FAR more Testing than any other Country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2020
Clinton went on to portray Trump as ill-equipped to hold the job of president. “If you want a president who defines the job as spending hours a day watching TV and zapping people on social media, he’s your man,” Clinton said in pretaped remarks delivered from his home in Chappaqua, N.Y., adding, “At a time like this, the Oval Office should be a command center. Instead, it’s a storm center. There’s only chaos. Just one thing never changes — his determination to deny responsibility and shift the blame. The buck never stops there.”
John Kerry, a former U.S. senator and Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, has often been mocked by Trump over the nuclear deal he negotiated with Iran as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state. Trump campaigned against it and withdrew the U.S. from the deal in 2018.
Kerry delivered some of the strongest words of the night against Trump, especially concerning matters of foreign policy.
“Donald Trump pretends Russia didn’t attack our elections. And now, he does nothing about Russia putting a bounty on our troops,” Kerry said in reference to U.S. intelligence findings. “So he won’t defend our country. He doesn’t know how to defend our troops. The only person he’s interested in defending is himself.”
Kerry has also been criticized by Trump for his role in pushing the U.S. to join the Paris Agreement on climate change, which Trump has also rejected. Those moves and more, Kerry said, have made Trump a laughing stock around the world.
“When this president goes overseas, it isn’t a goodwill mission, it’s a blooper reel. He breaks up with our allies and writes love letters to dictators. America deserves a president who’s looked up to — not laughed at,” he said.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a retired four-star general and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, implied in his second speech at a Democratic National Convention (he has also spoken at two Republican National Conventions) that Trump lacks the values needed in a U.S. president.
“Our country needs a commander in chief who takes care of our troops in the same way he would his own family. But Joe Biden doesn’t need teaching,” Powell said. Given that Powell voted for both Obama and Clinton, the fact that he is yet another Republican crossing over to endorse Biden may not carry much weight.
Other government officials, including former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates all spoke briefly in support of Biden on Tuesday.
“From the moment President Trump took office, he’s used his position to benefit himself rather than our country,” Yates said. “He’s trampled the rule of law, trying to weaponize our Justice Department to attack his enemies and protect his friends.”
Jill Biden rises to the moment
After a video that introduced many Americans to the story of how she met Biden after his first wife and daughter were killed in a car crash, Jill Biden delivered a stand-out speech that sketched out her own story.
“Motherhood came to me in a way I never expected. I fell in love with a man and two little boys standing in the wreckage of unthinkable loss, mourning a wife and mother, a daughter and sister. I never imagined at the age of 26, I would be asking myself, ‘How do you make a broken family whole?’”
Speaking from Brandywine High School in Wilmington, Del., a school where she once taught English, Biden used the setting to draw attention to the Trump administration’s response to coronavirus pandemic.
“As a mother and a grandmother, as an American, I am heartbroken by the magnitude of this loss, by the failure to protect our communities, by every precious and irreplaceable life gone,” Biden said.
Biden, who taught at community college throughout her husband’s eight years as vice president, also portrayed her husband as someone who has a gift for empathy.
“How do you make a broken family whole? The same way you make a nation whole,” she said. “With love and understanding — and with small acts of compassion. With bravery. With unwavering faith.”
Her talk was praised even by Trump’s ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.:
Tonight, Jill Biden did a very good job representing herself and Joe in the causes they believe in.
She’s an outstanding person who has led a consequential life.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) August 19, 2020
The legacy of John McCain
Few Republicans have gotten under Trump’s skin more than the late Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz. The former GOP presidential nominee, who died in 2018, refused to go along with Trump’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, for which Trump never forgave him.
McCain knew Biden well during the many decades they both served in the Senate. In an effort to contrast the personal styles of Trump and Biden, Democrats asked McCain’s widow, Cindy, to narrate a video played at Tuesday’s convention that highlighted how close the two senators were, despite their different political views.
Titled “An Unlikely Friendship,” the video holds up the relationship between the two senators as a model of bipartisanship, while needling Trump over McCain’s “thumbs-down” vote, which saved the ACA from being repealed.
“John and I have been given several awards about bipartisanship,” Biden says in the video. “We don’t understand why we should get an award for bipartisanship.”
In the clip, the late senator was given the final word, however.
“Thank you for your example of how to remain the same good guy that you were when you first got here,” McCain tells Biden. “Most of all for your friendship. My life and the lives of many have been enriched by it.”
In response, McCain’s daughter Meghan tweeted her approval.
New kids on the block
While much of the night was given over to venerable party leaders, the Democrats also used the second night of their convention to give a nod to the next generation of politicians, splitting the keynote address among 17 newcomers designated as rising stars by the party.
None shone brighter than former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams, who had been in contention to be picked by Biden as his running mate. Abrams showed why many people feel she has a promising career in front of her, going after Trump and boosting Biden with equal measure.
“Faced with a president of cowardice, Joe Biden is a man of proven courage,” she said. “He will restore our moral compass by confronting our challenges, not by hiding from them or undermining our elections to keep his job.”
Equally notable, however, was the role on Tuesday played by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Regarded by many as the most important voice of the progressive wing of the party, Ocasio-Cortez was allotted five minutes to speak on behalf of Biden’s former rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden, but whose name was placed in nomination as a symbolic gesture by former United Auto Workers president Bob King. Ocasio-Cortez seconded the nomination.
“In a time when millions of people in the United States are looking for deep systemic solutions to our crises of mass evictions, unemployment and lack of health care, and espíritu del pueblo and out of a love for all people, I hereby second the nomination of Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont for president of the United States of America,” said Ocasio-Cortez.
After the roll call was taken, Biden was officially declared the Democratic nominee, and Ocasio-Cortez quickly tweeted her support for him.
“I extend my deepest congratulations to @JoeBiden — let’s go win in November,” she wrote.
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