Before President Trump formally accepted his party’s nomination Thursday, his Democratic rivals accused him of overseeing a convention detached from the realities of a nation buffeted by economic, health and social crises.
“The Republican convention is designed for one purpose, to soothe Donald Trump’s ego, to make him feel good,” said California Sen. Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s vice presidential running mate, in a speech delivered from a university auditorium in Washington, D.C.
As Republicans at their convention largely downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 180,000 people in the U.S., Harris argued that Trump’s failure to address the health emergency more aggressively is emblematic of a tweet-driven presidency.
“Here’s what you have to understand about the nature of a pandemic: It’s relentless. You can’t stop it with the tweet,” she said. “Instead of rising to meet the most difficult moment of his presidency, Donald Trump froze. He was scared. And he was petty and vindictive.”
In two cable television interviews on Thursday, Biden accused Trump of trying to capitalize on the unrest in Kenosha, Wis., following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was struck in the back seven times. In an interview on MSNBC, Biden said he believed Trump is “rooting for more violence, not less.”
The comments from the Democratic nominees were part of a broad, full-day effort to counter the GOP message after a four-day nationally televised convention, capped by Trump’s speech formally accepting his party’s nomination.
Earlier Thursday, the Biden campaign launched a two-minute ad that tried to take on one of the most frequently repeated GOP attacks on the 77-year-old former vice president’s fitness for office: The claim that he is not physically or mentally up to the job.
The ad opened with shots of Biden running, biking and jogging up a ramp in a venue that, more recently, Trump, 74, was shown shuffling down.
“Some people are always in a hurry,” the ad narrator said. “They run when they could walk. Race up steps when others take it slow. When Joe Biden is president, America is just going to have to keep up.”
The Biden campaign also released another big batch of Republican endorsements: In three separate letters and statements, hundreds of alumni of the George W. Bush administration, the Mitt Romney presidential campaign and the staff of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) endorsed Biden.
“Given the incumbent president’s lack of competent leadership, his efforts to aggravate rather than bridge divisions among Americans, and his failure to uphold American values, we believe the election of former Vice President Biden is clearly in the national interest,” the McCain aides said in a letter.
While Republicans have been holding their convention this week, Biden has mostly been lying low. Harris’ speech — her biggest address since officially becoming Biden’s running mate — had been planned as the campaign’s major “pre-buttal” to Trump.
The speech had been billed in advance as one focusing on Trump’s “failures to contain COVID-19 and to protect working families from the economic fallout.”
Before beginning her indictment of Trump, Harris expressed sympathy for hurricane victims in the South and wildfires in the West, and she spoke for the second time in as many days about the situation in Kenosha, where the police shooting of Blake has been followed by nights of unrest. Amid peaceful protests, arson and violence have also broken out. Authorities have charged a 17-year-old white youth with homicide in the shooting deaths of two protesters in what officials described as a vigilante act.
Harris expressed sympathy for protesters while denouncing violence. “We should not confuse them with those looting and committing acts of violence, including the shooter, who was arrested for murder,” she said. “And make no mistake, we will not let these vigilantes and extremists derail the path to justice.”
In an interview on CNN, Biden derided Trump for using footage from civic unrest under his watch to portray Biden as the candidate of chaos.
“To prove you should be scared of Joe Biden, they’re pointing to what’s happening in Donald Trump’s America,” he said.
Biden said he has spoken against looting or violence from the beginning, referencing a similar plea from Blake’s mother.
Trump “continues to root for violence,” Biden said. “The country will be substantially safer when he is no longer in office. I’m going to work to calm the tensions and root out systemic racism. I’m going to lead.”
With both parties’ conventions now complete, the next major event in the presidential race will be the series of debates between Trump and Biden, beginning Sept. 29. In his MSNBC interview, Biden was asked if he agreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that Trump has not comported himself in a way to merit debating him. Biden affirmed his plan to meet Trump on the debate stage.
“I’m going to be a fact checker on the floor, while I’m debating him,” he said.