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DNC Night 4: Watch the Moments That Mattered


Adam: Wow. OK, so much to say. First, we’re going to get to Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s speech in depth for sure, but that was quite a moment. A lot of people were worried that the convention would overshadow the party’s 77-year-old candidate; Barack Obama, the roll call, Michelle Obama. But these four virtual days will — I would wager — be remembered for a long time because of the speech that Mr. Biden gave. If there was a room, I suspect he would have blown it away.

What’s our verdict on a virtual convention? I am going to argue that apart from a few weird moments, it worked well. The nature of it meant the party could spotlight people — not only politicians but regular people — from around the country. It also meant it was easier for convention organizers to just say no to the crowd of supporters, contributors and elected officials who want their eight minutes on the podium. And on Day 4, everything seemed to build to Mr. Biden’s speech. You got the feeling that Democrats sat down in some kind of writers’ room at the beginning of this and plotted where they would end up. (Kind of like “The Americans.” Watch it start to finish and you’ll see what I mean.)

Jenny: You know, I’ve hardly covered political conventions I.R.L., but I’ve watched many on television. And I have to say, I found this to be far more engaging than what I’ve seen in the past. Perhaps it’s partly because we’re so isolated, but hearing from regular people (instead of politicians) from around the country was really powerful. Hearing from the young boy with a stutter who Mr. Biden spoke with on the campaign trail was remarkable — it felt impossible not to be moved by his speech.

Adam: I’m interested to see how the Republicans approach this. I assume most of their production is done. And President Trump is a very different candidate than Mr. Biden, more improvisational and resistant to scripting.

Jenny: I found myself wondering how will Republicans talk about Covid, which was such a big issue these four nights. So much of what we heard from Mr. Biden was about the pandemic. It can’t be said enough: There are a lot of people who fear for their lives and livelihoods. Democrats laid that at the feet of the Trump administration. “More than 170,000 Americans have died,” Mr. Biden said.

Jenny: The most striking thing to me was how his address felt like something completely different than a traditional campaign speech — muted music, no wild crowds cheering and (again) no balloons. It was more akin to something we might see from someone already in the Oval Office, speaking to a country after a tragedy or during wartime.

Adam: I’ve rarely seen a convention speech set up a fall campaign as effectively as that one. Voters could not ask for a sharper choice. Policy is part of it, but I think during this moment of crisis, style and presence are just as important. Mr. Biden kept using the motif of light and darkness. He was optimistic, even as he acknowledged the enormity of the pandemic. It’s a real contrast with Mr. Trump’s dark acceptance speech in 2016, and his campaign speeches this year. There’s a basic calculation here: When Americans elect a president, they select a candidate who is the opposite of the incumbent.

Jenny: So much of Mr. Trump’s attacks have been about a caricature of Mr. Biden. The Trump campaign has attempted to label him as “sleepy” and “radical.” As you said, this was about anticipating what is likely to be a brutal final stretch of the campaign.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Obama made the case that democracy itself was at risk. Mr. Biden didn’t quite go that far, but he made the case that these are extremely dire times and voters are putting themselves and their family at risk if there is another Trump administration. And he promised he would be the one to unite the country.

Adam: A big goal of this convention, I think, was drawing a more intimate portrait of Mr. Biden, to inoculate him from the attacks by Republicans. You could see that in the discussion of the twin tragedies in his family, and his growing up with a stutter. Will this make it more difficult for Mr. Trump to demonize him?

Adam: So if you want to see the upsides and the downsides of this virtual format, check out speeches by Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind. All four of them are up-and-comers in the party; Ms. Duckworth and Ms. Baldwin were mentioned as possible running mates for Mr. Biden, and Mr. Booker and Mr. Buttigieg competed for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But on Thursday they weren’t walking onto a stage speaking to thousands of delegates. It was controlled, scripted and produced. It gave the Biden campaign less to worry about — but also made it harder for any one to break out. How do you think they did?

Jenny: It’s fair to say that their speeches are not likely to be remembered beyond, well … I am sure their staff and family will remember them. But in all seriousness, it seems to me that their mission tonight was quite clearly not about them. It was all meant to serve Mr. Biden’s themes. And one of them, tonight, was the military. Ms. Duckworth is an Army veteran who lost both of her legs while serving in Iraq. She told her story standing in front of the Capitol, but talked largely about the sacrifices her husband and other military spouses make. With only a few minutes to speak, she turned to Mr. Biden, and his son Beau, who was also deployed to Iraq. And she landed a couple of could-be memorable zingers attacking a president who she said “lets tyrants manipulate him like a puppet.”

Adam: So, if you want proof of how President Trump has unified the Democratic Party around one goal (that would be beating Mr. Trump), check out the losing-candidate love-fest panel for Mr. Biden. Can you imagine Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz doing a panel talking up President Trump in 2016? Exactly.

Jenny: It was quite the “Brady Bunch” montage. There was a lot of fuzzy nostalgia that erased the very real policy differences of the primary. But of course, again, everything has changed since then. It’s quite jarring to remember that nearly every one of those candidates dropped out before most of America knew what social distancing meant — and long before we heard the name George Floyd.

There is an interesting wrinkle: Where was Julián Castro? He’s not the only also-ran who didn’t get a square. There was no Michael Bennet or Tulsi Gabbard or Marianne Williamson. Mr. Castro was never a top contender during the primary, but he raised his profile considerably. He was also the only Latino candidate in a year when Democrats are counting on Latino voters to win in several battleground states.

Adam: So, Jenny, that was a real last-minute appearance for Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, the West Coast book end for the speech earlier this week by another high-profile governor on the front lines of fighting Covid, Andrew M. Cuomo. He was on again and off again. Finally, he popped up with little notice a few minutes before the program began, looking down into a cellphone, standing in front of a tree.

Jenny: Here in California, we’ve got some of the worst wildfires in recent memory — which is really saying something. Thousands of people are being forced to evacuate under blazing heat, the air thick with smoke — all amid the pandemic. In other words, the governor is not having an easy week. As one of his aides said earlier Thursday, “The segment that was originally planned didn’t make sense given the growth and severity of the state’s devastating wildfires.” Instead, Mr. Newsom spent the day stopping at evacuation centers as residents fled their homes. It was a fairly rough video selfie.

Adam: I don’t think anyone would have held it against him if he missed the event. On the other hand, Mr. Newsom is certainly ambitious (nothing wrong with that; this is politics after all), so it’s understandable that he would have wanted a chance to talk on a platform like this one.

Jenny: But you have to imagine that it’s something of a letdown for him. Mr. Newsom has never exactly hid his ambition for the Oval Office.

Adam: There was a time when this should have been his big moment: the popular California governor talked about as the future presidential candidate, a leader of the capital of the resistance to the Trump White House.

But I’m not sure he has the future in the national party that he once had. Two reasons: Covid-19 and Kamala Harris. California led the nation in first controlling the virus. But the disease later exploded in the state, and a lot of people have blamed Mr. Newsom for easing up too soon on the shutdown. As for Ms. Harris, she is also from California. Once Mr. Biden put her on the national stage, well, there wasn’t room for another Big Name from California.

Jenny: There’s been the longstanding rumor that Mr. Newsom and Ms. Harris made a pact not to run against each other or stand in another’s way as they attempted to climb to the top. But there seems no doubt that he’s going to be mired in California’s crises for the foreseeable future.

Adam: Mr. Newsom got a pretty sharp reminder of how far he has fallen in the form of an essay by the opinion editor of The Sacramento Bee that was posted Thursday. The governor’s speech “officially marked his transition from a potential future president to a likely future has-been,” it read. (Harsh. Remind me not to get on that editor’s bad side, please.)

That was a pleasure, Ms. Medina. Let’s call it a night and go home! Oh wait.

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