WILMINGTON, Del. — The Democrats’ historic boundary breakers joined forces Wednesday night at the party’s national convention in an urgent effort to rouse the diverse coalition Joe Biden will need to defeat President Donald Trump this fall.
Their overriding message: Vote this time; don’t just complain later. Your lives and democracy itself may be at stake.
Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, and Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominated for president by a major party, were speaking on Biden’s behalf. And Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate and the first Black woman on a major party ticket, was delivering highly anticipated remarks that will serve as her first introduction to millions of voters.
In remarks remarkable for their dismissiveness of a U.S. president by his predecessor, Obama declared, “Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”
Harris, a 55-year-old California senator, said the nation is at a critical point, struggling under Trump’s “chaos,” “incompetence”and “callousness.”
“We can do better and deserve so much more,” Harris says. “We must elect a president who will bring something different, something better, and do the important work. A president who will bring all of us together — Black, White, Latino, Asian, Indigenous — to achieve the future we collectively want.”
In a surprise appearance early in the program’s opening moments, Harris called on Biden’s supporters to have a specific “voting plan” to overcome the many obstacles of voting this fall during the pandemic.
“When we vote things change, when we vote things get better, when we vote we address the need for all people to be treated with dignity and respect,” Harris said. “So each of us needs a plan, a voting plan.”
Obama warned American democracy might not survive another four years of Trump. He urged voters to “embrace your own responsibility as citizens – to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure. Because that’s what is at stake right now. Our democracy.”
Just 76 days before the election, voters in both parties are as engaged as they have ever been, even while battling the coronavirus pandemic that has left more than 172,000 dead and millions more out of work. Having formally been nominated by their party, the Biden-Harris ticket is now the Democrats’ best and only hope to deny Trump a second term.
The pandemic has forced Biden’s team to abandon the traditional convention format in favor of an all-virtual affair that has eliminated much of the pomp and circumstance that typically defines political conventions. It’s also produced opportunities to create new traditions, including a roll call vote for Biden’s formal nomination featuring a video montage of activists in every state in the nation.
The Democratic convention will build to a finale Thursday night when Biden will deliver his acceptance speech in a mostly empty convention hall near his Delaware home.
Next week it’s Trump’s turn.
The president, who abandoned plans to host his convention in North Carolina and Florida, is expected to break tradition and accept his nomination from the White House lawn.
Trump spent much of this week hosting campaign events in battleground states in an attempt to distract from the Democrats’ virtual festivities. While he did not travel on Wednesday, the Republican president railed against Biden and his party at a press conference while praising a conspiracy theory group that claims Trump’s opponents have links to satanism and child sex trafficking.
“We’re saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country,” Trump said. “And when this country is gone, the rest of the world would follow.”
Clinton, four years after her own nominating convention, looked back at her 2016 loss to Trump and saids that by now it must be clear that American lives and livelihoods are at risk.
“For four years, people have said to me, ‘I didn’t realize how dangerous he was.’ ‘I wish I could go back and do it over.’ Or worst, ‘I should have voted,’” she said. “Well, this can’t be another woulda coulda shoulda election.”
In excerpts of his remarks, Obama called Biden his “brother.” He also savaged the Trump presidency in a rare public rebuke from one president to his successor.
“I have sat in the Oval Office with both of the men who are running for president,” Obama says. “I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care.”