WILMINGTON, Del. — Joe Biden accepted the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night, achieving the pinnacle — so far — of his nearly five-decade political career in the climax of the most unorthodox national convention in modern history.
As the final night of the four-day convention began, the former vice president was hoping for initial steps to not only unify the diverse Democratic Party but a deeply divided America as well.
Biden, who at 77 years old would be the oldest president ever elected, was feted by family and former foes as he became the Democratic Party’s official standard bearer in the campaign to defeat President Donald Trump in November.
Early in the night, a group of supporters, including former rivals, cast Biden as uniquely prepared to help the nation recover from its mounting crises.
“We are in a deep dark hole, and we need leaders who will help us dig out,” said Andrew Yang, a New York entrepreneur who challenged Biden for the Democratic nomination. “We must give this country, our country, a chance. And recovery is only possible with a change of leadership and new ideas.”
Above all, Biden focused on uniting the nation as Americans grapple with the long and fearful health crisis, the related economic devastation, a national awakening on racial justice — and Trump, who stirs heated emotions from all sides.
Biden’s positive focus Thursday night marked a break from the dire warnings offered by former President Barack Obama and others the night before. The 44th president of the United States warned that American democracy itself could falter if Trump is reelected, while Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, and 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton declared that Americans’ lives and livelihoods are at risk.
Throughout their convention, the Democrats have summoned a collective urgency about the dangers of Trump as president. In 2016, they dismissed and sometimes trivialized him. In the days leading up to Biden’s acceptance speech, they cast him as an existential threat to the country.
The tone signals anew that the fall campaign between Trump and Joe Biden, already expected to be among the most negative of the past half century, will be filled with rancor and recrimination.
Beyond Biden’s highly anticipated speech, Thursday’s program was designed to highlight the diversity of the Democratic Party and the nation he hopes to lead.
Speakers included four former rivals: Pete Buttigieg, who was trying to become the nation’s first openly gay president; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; New York ultra-billionaire Michael Bloomberg and Yang. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was also be featured in addition to Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs while serving in Iraq.
Biden’s Democratic Party has sought this week to put forward a cohesive vision of values and policy priorities, highlighting efforts to combat climate change, tighten gun laws and embrace a humane immigration policy. They have drawn a sharp contrast with Trump’s policies and personality, portraying him as cruel, self-centered and woefully unprepared to manage virtually any of the nation’s mounting crises and policy challenges.
Biden’s call for unity comes as some strategists worry that Democrats cannot retake the White House simply by tearing Trump down; Biden needs to give his sprawling coalition something to vote for. That’s easier said than done in a modern Democratic Party made up of disparate factions that span generation, race and ideology.
For that reason, Thursday’s program, like much of the convention, emphasized Biden’s personal values like decency, honesty and empathy more than any single policy proposal or achievement.
The pandemic has also forced Biden’s team to abandon the typical pageantry and rely instead on a highly-produced, all-virtual affair that has failed to draw the same television ratings as past conventions.
The silence was noticeable Wednesday night, for example, as Harris took the stage to make history in a cavernous hall inside the Chase Center in downtown Wilmington. She was flanked by American flags but no family, and her audience consisted of a few dozen reporters and photographers.
It’s Trump’s turn next. The Republican president, who abandoned plans to host his convention in North Carolina and in Florida, is expected to break tradition and accept his nomination from the White House lawn next week.
In the meantime, he’s seeking to take attention from Biden. Trump was continuing this week’s swing-state tour on Thursday with a stop near Biden’s birthplace of Scranton, Pennsylvani a. While he is trying to stay on offense, the president has faced a series distractions of his own this week, many of his own making.
Trump on Wednesday praised a conspiracy-theory group that believes the president’s political opponents support satanism and pedophilia. On Thursday, a federal judge ruled that prosecutors could access his long-hidden tax returns. Also Thursday, New York prosecutors announced the indictment of Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign manager and White House chief counsel, who was charged with fraud.
Wednesday night, Harris, a 55-year-old California senator and the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, addressed race and equality in a personal way Biden cannot when he formally accepts his party’s presidential nomination.
“There is no vaccine for racism. We have got to do the work,” Harris declared.
Beyond the carefully scripted confines of the virtual convention, there have been modest signs of tension between the moderate and progressive wings of Biden’s Democratic Party.
In particular, some progressives complained that pro-Biden Republicans such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich have been featured more prominently than the party’s younger progressive stars like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.