Democrats officially nominated Joe Biden to be their party’s presidential nominee on Tuesday and made the case that he can unify the country because he appeals to virtually every type of voter: progressives, moderates and disaffected Republicans.
But what Democrats are defining as unity — their theme for the Democratic National Convention this week — is also reflective of the fragile coalition Biden is hoping to pull together against President Donald Trump.
For anyone watching day two of the convention, it may have felt disjointed at times. The program jumped from regular people sharing stories about health care struggles, to former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell praising Biden as the right person to keep the nation safe, to an emotional message from Jill Biden about grief and resilience. There may not have been a clear flow, but the snippets were designed to appeal to each of Biden’s constituencies.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the democratic socialist who nominated Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for the presidency, stressed the importance of strong progressive priorities. She used her short speaking time to celebrate a movement of people “striving to recognize and repair the wounds of racial injustice, colonization, misogyny and homophobia.”
This was just before a video celebrating Biden’s longtime friendship with the late Republican Sen. John McCain. The video described McCain as “Joe’s friend who saved Obamacare,” referring to his pivotal 2017 vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act after earlier votes to repeal.
Former Democratic Secretary of State John Kerry was there to take shots at Trump’s foreign policy record.
“When this president goes overseas, it isn’t a goodwill mission, it’s a blooper reel. He breaks up with our allies and writes love letters to dictators,” Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, said. “America deserves a president who is looked up to, not laughed at.”
Powell, arguably the most controversial speaker of the night given that some Democrats view him as a war criminal, appealed to military families.
“Our country needs a commander in chief who takes care of our troops in the same way he would his own family,” Powell said. “For Joe Biden, that doesn’t need teaching. It comes from the experience he shares with millions of military families — sending his beloved son off to war and praying to God he would come home safe.”
The outreach to moderate Republicans and disaffected Trump voters was carried on from the first night of the convention, which featured elected GOP officials as well as personal stories from Republican voters who were switching their party affiliation this election.
Any mention of policy Tuesday night was only in vague terms.
“We will stay united, from Sanders and Warren to Manchin and Warner and with our unity we will bring bold and dramatic change to our country,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in his speech at the start of the night, promising unity among Senate Democrats. ”We will make health care affordable for all.”
“We will take strong, decisive action to combat climate change,” he added, papering over some of the more contentious policy debates Democrats have been having over the last year.
Notably, as HuffPost’s Alexander C. Kaufman reported, Democrats removed language calling for ending fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks from its party platform.
The evening also included remarks from Ady Barkan, a progressive “Medicare for All” activist with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, who endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for president. There was no mention Tuesday night of the single-payer health care proposal, which would grant government insurance to every American — a policy Biden campaigned against. Instead, Barkan, whose appearance at the convention was championed by those in Warren’s and Sanders’s orbits, spoke around it.
“We live in the richest country in history, and yet we do not guarantee this most basic human right,” Barkan said. “Everyone living in America should get the health care they need regardless of their employment status or ability to pay.”
Both Biden and Sanders won delegates during the formal nominating process — the first real acknowledgment of the party’s heated primary process. Biden easily surpassed the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, while Sanders fell short with 1,073 delegates.
Biden’s strategy of appealing to virtually everyone just might work in the short term, as Kevin Robillard wrote for HuffPost. Why? The majority of Biden’s backers are supporting him because they want Trump gone. Democrats just need to keep dissent on either side of the tent at bay until November.
The real threat to Biden’s coalition could come after Jan. 20, should he win. That’s when Biden and Capitol Hill leaders would have to start addressing the demands from all the interest groups who supported him.