John Cassidy, writing in the New Yorker, anticipates Joe Biden’s Moment at the Democratic National Convention. This year’s virtual Convention presents unique difficulties, but the Democrats have at least three things going for them, all related to the repellent nature of their opponent.
As the 2020 Democratic National Convention opens later today, there are indications that Joe Biden is in a stronger position than any challenger to a sitting President since 1992, when Bill Clinton defeated George H. W. Bush. The FiveThirtyEight poll average shows him with an eight-point lead over Donald Trump. Biden’s choice of Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate has generated a highly positive reaction among Democrats and pundits. His opponent has just embroiled himself in yet another avoidable controversy—this one centered on the U.S. Post Office, a venerable institution that plays a key role in many Trump-supporting areas.
For the Biden campaign, the overwhelming priority this week is to maintain its momentum. Democrats are hopeful. But, with the agony of 2016 still fresh in their collective memory, many of them are understandably nervous, too. On Sunday, a new CNN poll showed Biden just four points ahead. But three other new surveys show him with considerably bigger leads: twelve points in a Washington Post-ABC News survey, ten points in a CBS News/YouGov poll, and nine points in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. It should also be noted that Biden’s advantage over Trump is a long-standing one. Back in mid-March, shortly after it became clear that he was going to win the nomination, an earlier Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll also found him with a nine-point advantage.
A Convention is an opportunity for a political party to rally behind its candidates and engage the broader electorate. With the coronavirus pandemic having upended Convention planning, along with much else, the organizers are facing new challenges this year. In putting together a program of speakers under the theme “Uniting America,” the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee have combined Party elders—the Obamas, the Clintons, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi—with a bevy of female senators and governors—Amy Klobuchar, Catherine Cortez Masto, Gretchen Whitmer, Elizabeth Warren, Michelle Lujan Grisham, Tammy Baldwin, Tammy Duckworth—and some rising stars, including Andrew Yang and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The planners are obviously held hostage to the technological difficulty of coördinating segments, and speeches, from many different locations. But they have at least three things going for them, all of which are directly related to the repellent nature of their opponent.
One is Party unity. On the day before the start of the 2016 Democratic Convention, thousands of supporters of Bernie Sanders marched through Philadelphia, chanting, “Hell, no, D.N.C., we won’t vote for Hillary.” A few days earlier, Wikileaks had released a batch of e-mails hacked from the Democratic National Committee, which showed Party officials trying to undermine the Sanders candidacy. The fissures in the Democratic Party were impossible to ignore.
The situation today is very different. In running for a second term, Trump has united Democrats like virtually nobody before him. “What almost all progressives understand, that in this moment, we have got to do everything we can to come together to defeat Donald Trump,” Senator Sanders told Chuck Todd, the moderator of “Meet the Press,” on Sunday. On Monday night, Sanders will feature in a slate of speakers that also includes Michelle Obama, the former First Lady, and John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio. When Todd asked Sanders how he felt about sharing the stage with Kasich, he reiterated his point: “Look, John will do his thing; I will do my thing,” he said. “I expect they will be different types of speeches, but we are united. We are united in the understanding that Trump has to be defeated, and Biden has to be elected.”
[Second, ] In addition to unifying Democrats, Trump is helping to keep the focus on himself, … Evidently, some of Trump’s advisers, if not he, have realized that he is on to a losing plan, but the Post Office story won’t go away. House Democrats have scheduled a hearing for August 24th, at which Trump’s Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, will be called to testify.
The third service that Trump has afforded Biden is to provide him with a compelling message. Even some of the Democratic candidate’s advisers privately concede that he isn’t a politician with strong ideological convictions or a clearly defined policy agenda. … This year, it is arguably a big advantage, because it allows him to portray his campaign as a welcoming vessel that anybody who wants to save the country from Trump can clamber aboard: moderate Democrats, progressive Democrats, independents, Never Trump Republicans, and Republicans who voted for Trump in 2016 but have come to regret it. From April of last year, when he launched his campaign, Biden made clear that his primary agenda was ridding the United States of a pestilence. In the video announcement he posted online, he cited the infamous comments that Trump made after the clashes between white supremacists and anti-fascist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, and he described the coming election as “a battle for the soul of this nation.”
During the past sixteen months, Biden has used this same language repeatedly, including last week, when he introduced Harris as his running mate. It sometimes sounds a bit stilted, but it also has the merit of being frighteningly accurate. “I believe history will look back on four years of this President, and all he embraces, as an aberrant moment in time,” Biden went on to say in his launch video. “But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation.”
On Thursday night, Biden will deliver this message again, almost certainly combining it with pledges to confront the pandemic on the basis of science and compassion, to build a cleaner and more equitable economy, and to fulfill the civil-rights legacy of John Lewis, the late Democratic congressman, who will be the subject of a video tribute introduced by Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta. Even though there will be no crowds to cheer him in person, and no balloons poised to drop on his head, Biden will have a unique opportunity to reassert the values of decency, truth, and democracy, as well as the virtues of competent Presidential leadership. Let’s hope he rises to the occasion.