Our View: Laying out how Donald Trump is a loser against coronavirus and unrest, Democratic nominee appeals to Americans to let him lead.
The first was to show Americans that despite his age — Biden would be 78 at a swearing in if elected, the oldest president in U.S. history — he has the vigor and mental acuity to lead a nation stricken by twin medical and economic crises.
That job was relatively easy in this new age of virtual convention, where Biden only had to read from a teleprompter in an audience-free conference room in Wilmington, Delaware, without any major gaffes. (A heavier lift on the cognitive-agility front awaits late next month, when the presidential debates begin, and in unscripted interviews.) But in this speech, billed as the candidate’s biggest in nearly a half-century of politics and a decades-long pursuit of the White House, Biden displayed a command of his material and an emotional dynamism as if he could hear a packed convention hall cheering.
‘No miracle is coming’
The second challenge was to convince viewers that he could do a better job than President Donald Trump in battling the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 175,000 Americans, shattered the economy and upended everyday life, producing this year’s “unconventional” conventions, shorn of balloon drops and delegates in funny costumes.
Without referring to Trump by name, the Democratic nominee called out the president for failing to plan or take the virus seriously. “No miracle is coming,” Biden said, building a case for how he intends to correct the administration’s mismanagement with adequate testing, medical supplies, school resources, a national mask-wearing mandate, a reliance on science and an unmuzzling of experts.
The third, and perhaps the most difficult, challenge facing the former vice president was to convince independent voters and persuadable Republicans that he’s not “the puppet of the radical left-wing movement,” as Trump has been calling him.
In the Senate, Biden was a political pragmatist who favored bank deregulation, welfare reform and tough-on-crime legislation, and he was known for working across the aisle. Today, however, the energy in the Democratic Party is in its progressive wing, and partisans on both sides regard compromise as a dirty word.
‘I will be an American president’
Thursday night, Biden didn’t rise to the bait of Trump’s name-calling: “While I will be a Democratic candidate, I will be an American president.”
And he followed that by directly addressing the white middle-class voters who populate Trump’s base of support. Biden summoned memories of own blue-collar beginnings and his father’s struggle to hold down employment and provide for his family in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He reminded voters how he shared their origins. His refrain was the sanctity of jobs, the dignity of work and the power of self-fulfillment.
Beyond the pandemic, though, position papers on the issues are likely to matter less in this election than basic character and competence. Biden ultimately fell back on his strongest argument: that he is simply a good and decent man who understands the suffering of others because he, too, has suffered devastating family loss and found purpose in his grief.
In recalling “one of the most important conversations I’ve had” with the 6-year-old daughter of George Floyd after the unarmed African American’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in May, Biden said she told him her “daddy” had changed the world. “Her words burrowed deep into my heart,” Biden said.
For a public looking for a contrast to a Trump age punctuated by animus and division and chaos, an appeal to empathy and understanding might just be enough.
USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view a unique USA TODAY feature.