Biden seeks to win over progressives and Republicans on night one
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden gambled on Monday night that he could use his nominating convention to win over skeptical progressives and swing Republicans, a balancing act his campaign hopes will cut off President Trump’s path to reelection.
The first night of the Democratic nominating convention featured prime-time addresses from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who led the progressive challenge to Biden during the primaries, and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who ran for president against Trump in the GOP primaries in 2016.
That uneasy alliance got off to a rocky start earlier in the day, when Kasich and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) publicly sniped at one another. Many progressives were frustrated to learn that Republicans would be featured at the Democratic convention, viewing it as evidence of Biden’s questionable commitment to governing as a liberal.
But Sanders, who has been a reliable ally for Biden since ending his primary campaign, left no doubt about where he stood. The progressive icon used his Monday night address to implore the left to put aside their differences with Biden and join forces to defeat Trump, even if it means a temporary partnership with some on the right to get it done.
“As long as I am here, I will work with progressives, moderates, and yes, with conservatives to preserve this nation from a threat that so many of our heroes fought and died to defeat,” Sanders said.
By featuring the biggest name in progressive politics and the most vocal Never Trump Republican on the opening night of the convention, the Biden campaign is betting it can win over two sets of voters with no shared policy goals except for a desire to see Trump voted out of office.
Some of the most effective moments of the first night of convention programming centered around testimonials from individuals across the country who said they voted for Trump in 2016 but will be voting for Biden in 2020.
Those testimonials came from ordinary citizens who said they were “ashamed” to admit they supported Trump in 2016. One man from Illinois said he believed Biden would “turn our country’s political discourse back to normal decency.”
Others said they’d grown tired of Trump’s volatile presidency, whether it was his response to the coronavirus or tariffs levied against farmers amid the president’s trade war with China.
Before Kasich spoke, three prominent Republican women — former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and former Rep. Susan Molinari (N.Y.) — explained why they would be crossing party lines in 2020.
“Joe Biden is a really good man and exactly what this nation needs at this time,” Molinari said.
Kasich acknowledged how strange it was for the Republicans to be addressing the Democratic convention.
“In normal times, something like this would probably never have happened, but these aren’t normal times,” Kasich said.
Trump blasted back at Kasich, saying he “was a loser as a Republican and he’ll be a loser as a Democrat.”
The Trump campaign ripped the former Republicans as “useful idiots for the radical left.”
Polls show Trump has near-universal support within the Republican Party.
There is some question as to whether the “Never Trump” Republicans are mostly a Washington phenomenon that receives outsize media attention for opposing Trump, or if there is a broad swath of the GOP electorate that is open to abandoning the president.
The Biden campaign’s outreach to Republicans is largely an effort to reach a key portion of Trump’s 2016 coalition — right-leaning independents and suburban voters, who helped deliver the House to Democrats in 2018.
Trump won big among independents in 2016 but polls show Biden running up the score in 2020 among independents and suburban voters.
“Democrats, independents, and yes, many Republicans are tired of his divisiveness,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said on Monday night.
Klobuchar is one of several moderate Democrats featured on the convention’s first night that the campaign believes will appeal to some of those potential crossover voters.
The Biden campaign still has an uneasy alliance with the left, underscored by two progressive lawmakers — Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — who voted against the party’s platform this week because it did not endorse “Medicare for All.”
Prominently featuring Republicans at the convention carries some risk of backlash on the left. Progressives bristled at Kasich for using his convention address to assure voters that Biden would not move too far to the left.
“I’m sure there are Republicans who couldn’t imagine crossing over to support a Democrat,” Kasich said. “They fear Joe Biden will turn a sharp left and leave them behind. I don’t believe that because I know the measure of the man — reasonable, faithful and respectful and nobody pushes Joe Biden around.”
Polls show Democrats are fully behind Biden. But some of Biden’s support from the progressive left is predicated on their shared desire to defeat Trump.
Democrats are certain to face nasty policy fights between progressives and centrists in a potential Biden administration even if he wins in a landslide.
In his speech, Sanders sought to convince progressives that Biden would govern as a true liberal, even if they differ on the core issue of Medicare for All.
Sanders argued that Biden would strengthen unions, reform the criminal justice system, lower prescription drug costs, enact a $15 minimum wage, implement mandatory paid family leave, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and commit to fighting climate change.
At one point, Sanders spoke directly to his supporters, reminding them of the progress they have made and warning them that if Trump wins a second term it will all be in jeopardy.
“My friends, I say to you, to everyone who supported another candidate in the primary, and to those who may have supported Donald Trump in the past election — the future of our democracy is at stake,” Sanders said. “The future of our economy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake. We must come together to defeat Donald Trump.”
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