The virtual Democratic National Convention that ended Thursday night succeeded in portraying the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket as competent, decent and welcoming to a broad-based coalition — while also making a powerful case for the defeat of President Trump in the November election.
The core theme of the convention was focused on the need to stop Trump from serving a second term. The case for presidential nominee and former Vice President Biden was made over the course of the week by contrasting him and Trump on personal characteristics and leadership.
With this overarching theme, the Democrats largely achieved the unstated objective of the convention: do no harm at a time when Biden is leading Trump in opinion polls.
Biden’s speech accepting the presidential nomination conveyed his leadership capabilities and upstanding character, which was formed by personal struggles and a life of public service. The point was made that this would make Biden a more competent and compassionate president than Trump.
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“The current president has cloaked America in darkness for much too long,” Biden of Trump, urging voters to consider that “character,” “compassion,” and “decency” were all on the ballot.
Attacking Trump for his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic was also central to Biden’s speech, as he asked voters to “just judge this president on the facts” of the current public health and economic crises we face. The coronavirus has stricken over 5.5 million Americans, killed over 173,000, and costs millions their jobs.
Most notably, Biden’s speech was successful in the sense that his delivery was strong, poised, direct and energetic. This is significant, given that the Trump campaign has made
Biden’s age (77) an issue and raised questions about his mental fitness in attacks against him.
However, the virtual convention probably failed to attract new supporters to the campaign of Biden and his vice presidential running mate Sen. Kalama Harris, D-Calif.
Biden made concrete promises to protect health care, repeal Trump’s tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest Americans, and invest in renewable energy to address climate change and create jobs — but largely focused on Trump’s failures in these areas.
The convention was also largely a defensive action. Democrats revealed that while they have an array of policy positions. But there is no overarching strategy to Biden’s campaign — aside from emphasizing Trump’s lack of character and leadership failures, contrasted with Biden’s upstanding character and leadership capabilities. As a result, the convention did nothing to hold together or expand the Democratic coalition.
While this approach may have done no harm, it also did nothing to reach out to the working-class blue-collar voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but swung to Donald Trump in 2016.
Further, while the Democratic Party attempted a bridge to the left this week through periodic policy presentations and limited speeches by progressive leaders, Democrats clearly sought to avoid moving to the left in any meaningful way.
Still, in many ways, the Democrats were successful in this sense, given that the tension between the progressive and moderate wings of the party was unremarkable during most of the convention. This was despite the fact that the party is engaging in a tenuous balancing act by working to bring together a broad-based coalition in such a politically charged climate.
While most presidential candidates have historically received a post-convention boost, this convention — and election — are entirely unprecedented because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ultimately, while it is unlikely that Biden will see a jolt in the polls, his convention performance will likely result in him maintaining his current polling point lead over Trump —which, to be sure, is exactly what the Democrats were hoping to accomplish.