NEW YORK (AP) — Joe Biden is drawing on a collection of his party’s most experienced leaders at the Democratic National Convention to underscore what he calls a current global leadership deficit that threatens U.S. national security under Donald Trump.
Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State John Kerry are among the heavy hitters on a Tuesday night schedule that emphasizes a simple theme: Leadership matters. Former President Jimmy Carter, now 95 years old, will also make an appearance.
“Donald Trump says we’re leading the world. Well, we are the only major industrial economy to have its unemployment rate triple,” Clinton says in excerpts of his remarks released ahead of the convention’s second night. “At a time like this, the Oval Office should be a command center. Instead, it’s a storm center. There’s only chaos.”
On a night he will formally earn his party’s presidential nomination, former Vice President Biden will also introduce his wife, Jill Biden, to the nation for the first time as the prospective first lady.
Biden is fighting unprecedented logistical challenges to deliver his message during an all-virtual convention this week as the coronavirus epidemic continues to claim hundreds of American lives each day and wreaks havoc on the economy.
The former vice president will become his party’s nominee as a prerecorded roll call vote from delegates in all 50 states airs, and the four-day convention will culminate on Thursday when he accepts that nomination inside a mostly empty Delaware convention hall. His running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, will become the first woman of color to accept a major party’s vice presidential nomination on Wednesday.
Until then, Biden is presenting what he sees as the best of his sprawling coalition to the American electorate in a format unlike any other in history. There is no live audience for any of the speakers, who have so far delivered their remarks standing or seated alone in mostly prerecorded videos.
Jill Biden, a longtime teacher, will speak from her former classroom at Brandywine High School near the family home in Wilmington, Delaware.
“You can hear the anxiety that echoes down empty hallways. There’s no scent of new notebooks or freshly waxed floors,” she saysid of the school in excerpts of her speech before turning to the nation’s challenges at home. “How do you make a broken family whole? The same way you make a nation whole. With love and understanding—and with small acts of compassion. With bravery. With unwavering faith.”
Biden is leading Trump in most polls, but 77 days before the election, the Democrat has neither history nor enthusiasm on his side.
Just one incumbent president has been defeated in the last four decades. And Biden’s supporters consistently report that they’re motivated more by opposition to Trump than excitement about Biden, a 77-year-old lifelong politician. That deficit could hurt turnout among less consistent voters, particularly minorities, whom Biden needs to show up in great numbers this fall.
Clinton, a fixture of Democratic conventions for nearly three decades, will address voters for roughly five minutes in a speech recorded at his home in Chappaqua, New York.
In addition to railing against Trump’s leadership, Clinton calls Biden “a go-to-work president.” Biden, Clinton continues, is “a man with a mission: to take responsibility, not shift the blame; concentrate, not distract; unite, not divide.”
It remains to be seen whether the unconventional convention will give Biden the momentum he’s looking for.
Preliminary estimates show that television viewership for the first night of the virtual convention was down compared with the opening of Hillary Clinton’s onsite nominating party four years ago.
An estimated 18.7 million people watched coverage between 10 and 11 p.m. on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, the Nielsen company said. Four years ago, the opening night drew just under 26 million viewers.
Biden’s campaign said an additional 10.2 million streamed the convention online Monday night.
“We are producing a digital convention, and people are watching,” Biden spokesman T.J. Ducklo tweeted.
Michelle Obama energized the proceedings in her keynote address Monday night, when she delivered a passionate condemnation of the Republican president who replaced her husband.
“Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country,” she said. “He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us.”
Trump responded on Tuesday, tweeting that he wouldn’t be in the “beautiful White House” today if it “weren’t for the job done by her husband,” President Barack Obama. Trump ended with a sarcastic thanks to Mrs. Obama for her “very kind words.”
The president sought to steal focus from the convention on Monday by hosting a political rally in Wisconsin, where Biden’s party had originally planned this week’s convention. Trump was on the road again Tuesday, traveling to the southern U.S. border in Arizona and reviewing recent storm damage in Iowa.
The Democrats’ speaking schedule Tuesday night was diverse, yet hardly as diverse ideologically as the convention’s opening night, which featured self-described democratic socialist, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and a handful of former Republican leaders, including former Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Clinton, Carter and Kerry, among the Democrats’ most prominent leaders of past decades, represent the establishment wing of their party. Progressive New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is to appear for just one minute. Voters will also hear from Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who resisted Trump’s order to block Muslim immigrants from entering the United States but isn’t viewed as a liberal activist.
The schedule also features “rising stars” of the party, more than a dozen Democrats in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The younger faces include former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams, Rep. Conor Lamb., D-Pa., the president of the Navajo Nation Jonathan Nez, and Michigan state Rep. Mari Manoogian.
While the new generation has little experience in foreign policy, Biden’s team will rely on some of their party’s most experienced faces to shine a light on what they see as Trump’s failures at home and abroad.
“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 excerpts of his speech. “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.”
With no live audiences, convention organizers have been forced to get creative in their quest to generate interest and enthusiasm.
Seeking to inject some family fun into an otherwise serious two-hour video montage, the campaign hosted drive-in viewing stations on Monday in six states, much like drive-in movies, where viewers could watch on a big screen from the safety of their vehicles. There are also many online watch parties featuring celebrities and elected officials to make the experience more interactive.
Trump took at shot at the Democratic convention as he campaigned in Arizona.
“Their ratings are very bad,” Trump said. “It’s not the best television I’ve ever watched. Brutal, actually.”