David Axelrod, a senior CNN political commentator and host of “The Axe Files,” was senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.
(CNN)Last night, Democrats offered a moving and motivational argument for their vision of America as a pluralistic and progressive society.
AxelrodThrough powerful videos, testimonials and speeches, they made the case for action to stem gun violence and climate change; bring undocumented workers out of the shadows; and strengthen the social contract with measures such as universal childcare. They welcomed a historic nominee for vice president, who touted her lineage as the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants and spoke of the ideal of racial reconciliation and John Lewis’s vision of the “beloved community.” They heard a fervent, powerful homily from a former president who symbolized change.Taken separately, you will find a majority of Americans are in favor of many of the ideals Democrats promoted last night. Read MoreBut President Donald Trump won the 2016 election by energizing a minority of voters — most of whom are White — who view these changes as a threat to their livelihoods and way of life. And what may seem like a humane, common sense agenda to most Americans, this week will be cast by Trump and the Republicans as nothing more than job-crushing environmental regulations; amnesty for “illegals” and open borders; an attack on police that invites urban violence and anarchy; onerous new taxation and a radical assault on the second amendment.These are the jagged fault lines of American politics: a rising number of young people, racial minorities and college-educated White voters versus those who view the cultural and social changes proudly displayed at the Democratic National Convention this week as a threat.Trump’s fear of Joe Biden as an opponent is so pronounced that the President was impeached for trying to dig up dirt on him. But Biden — a White, plain-spoken, devout Catholic from the industrial heartland — is a culturally inconvenient target.Biden hardly looks the part of the far left radical Trump would use to rile up his base. In the primaries, Biden’s history of moderation and bipartisanship was a rallying point among fellow Democratic candidates. But in a general election, this history serves as an asset, offering comfort to middle-of-the-road voters who are ready to fire Trump.Opinion: Obama brings the blowtorchThat doesn’t mean Trump won’t try to seize on, embellish and distort the Democratic platform and Biden’s programs to paint him as an aged and addled dupe who has surrendered to the left. Trump is likely to cast him as a trojan horse the Democrats will use to promote socialism, lawlessness and cultural expropriation.But Democrats have been relentless this week in presenting Biden as a decent, caring man deeply rooted in Main Street values; a resilient leader who has weathered unthinkable struggle and loss and is prepared to lead America out of one of its darkest epochs.Tonight, as he accepts the nomination of his party, his job is to dispatch Trump’s attacks on his physical energy and mental acuity with a robust speech that defies caricature and speaks to the broadest swath of Americans.He needs to approach the speech as if he were already a sitting president and give Americans the confidence that better days are within our reach by laying out a clear sense of where he would lead on the virus and the economy.The battle for the presidency will mostly be one of mobilization, with each side working to get their bases out to vote. Democrats did a good job Wednesday of appealing to theirs with emotional presentations on core issues. But they have also offered reassurance this week to middle-of-the-road voters with speeches from moderate and Republican voices.Get our free weekly newsletter
Sign up for CNN Opinion’s new newsletter.
This is particularly important, since the outcome in November may be decided by the final disposition of few, mostly White voters who are up for grabs in a handful of swing states.Tonight, Biden needs to keep that balance in mind as he makes his pitch to what may amount to the largest audience he will have to himself between now and November.