Michelle Obama assails Trump as Democrats open convention

 Michelle Obama delivered a passionate broadside against President Donald Trump during Monday’s opening night of the Democratic National Convention, assailing the Republican president as unfit for the job and warning that the nation’s mounting crises would only get worse if he’s reelected.

The former first lady issued an emotional call to the coalition that sent her husband to the White House, declaring that strong feelings must be translated into votes.

“Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country,” she declared. “He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet at this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us.”

Obama added: “If you think things possibly can’t get worse, trust me, they can and they will if we don’t make a change in this election.”

The comments came as Joe Biden introduced the breadth of his political coalition to a nation in crisis Monday night at the convention, giving voice to victims of the coronavirus pandemic, the related economic downturn, and police violence, and featuring both progressive Democrats and Republicans united against Trump’s reelection.

The ideological range of Biden’s many messengers was demonstrated by former presidential contenders from opposing parties: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who championed a multi-trillion-dollar universal health care plan, and Ohio’s former Republican Gov. John Kasich, an anti-abortion conservative who spent decades fighting to cut government spending.

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The former vice president won’t deliver his formal remarks until Thursday night, but he made his first appearance just half an hour into Monday’s event as he moderated a panel on racial justice, a theme throughout the night, as was concern about the Postal Service. The Democrats accuse Trump of interfering with the nation’s mail in order to throw blocks in front of mail-in voting.

“My friends, I say to you, and to everyone who supported other candidates in this primary and to those who may have voted for Donald Trump in the last election: The future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our economy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake,” Sanders declared.

Kasich said his status as a lifelong Republican “holds second place to my responsibility to my country.”

“In normal times, something like this would probably never happen, but these are not normal times,” he said of his participation at the Democrats’ convention. He added: “Many of us can’t imagine four more years going down this path.”

The unified message came as Democrats launched the first presidential nominating convention of the coronavirus era. The all-virtual affair was the first without a central meeting place or cheering throngs. And there were real questions about whether the prime-time event would adequately energize the disparate factions Biden hopes to capture.

Republicans face a similar challenge next week.

Trump sought to undermine the Democrats’ big night by hosting a political rally in Wisconsin, where Biden’s party had originally planned this week’s convention. He called the Democrats’ event “a snooze” before it even began.

“You know when you hear a speech is taped, it’s like there is nothing very exciting about it, right?” the Republican president said.

Monday’s speeches were framed by emotional appearances from average Americans touched by the crises that have exploded on Trump’s watch.

Philonise and Rodney Floyd led a moment of silence in honor of their brother, George Floyd, the Minnesota man whose death while in police custody sparked a national moment of awakening on racial injustice.

“George should be alive today,” Philonise Floyd said matter-of-factly.

Kristin Urquiza, an Arizona woman who lost her father to COVID-19, which has killed more than 170,000 Americans as of Monday evening.

“My dad was a healthy 65-year-old,” she said. “His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life.”

And Rick Telecz, a Pennsylvania farmer, warned that Trump’s trade war has had a “truly a devastating effect” on his farm before the coronavirus brought another blow with what he called “misinformation” coming from the country’s leadership.

“My biggest concern is that if these trends with this type of leadership, I will be the last generation farming this farm,” he said.

Democrats abandoned their plans for an in-person gathering in Milwaukee because of the pandemic. The unprecedented gathering is not only testing the bonds of the diverse Biden-Kamala Harris coalition but the practical challenges of running a presidential campaign in the midst of a pandemic.

At this moment, Biden sits in a stronger political position than Trump, who has struggled to expand his political coalition under the weight of his turbulent leadership and prolonged health and economic crises. But 78 days before votes are counted, history is not on the Democratic challenger’s side. Just one incumbent president has been defeated in the last four decades.

Polls also suggest that Biden, a 77-year-old lifelong politician, is on the wrong end of an enthusiasm gap. His supporters consistently say they’re motivated more by opposition to Trump, who is 74, than excitement about Biden. Democrats hope to shift that dynamic beginning with the convention.

Biden will accept the nomination Thursday night in a mostly empty ballroom in his home state of Delaware. California Sen. Harris, the first Black woman on a national ticket, speaks Wednesday.

Michelle Obama, whom Gallup determined was the nation’s most admired woman last year, described Biden as a “profoundly decent man” in a video excerpt of her remarks recorded at least six days earlier.

“He was a terrific vice president,” she said of the man who served for eight years as her husband’s No. 2. “He knows what it takes to rescue an economy, beat back a pandemic, and lead our country.”

The former first lady appeared in a video sitting alone in a quiet room with a sparsely decorated shelf, a burning candle, and a small blue Biden sign behind her.

With no live audience for any of the speakers, convention organizers were forced to get creative in their high-stakes quest to generate enthusiasm. There were live appearances from speakers in Texas, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Michigan, but many of the speeches that aired Monday night were prerecorded.

Seeking to inject some family fun into an otherwise serious two-hour video montage, the campaign hosted drive-in viewing stations in six states, much like drive-in movies, where viewers could watch on a big screen from the safety of their vehicles. There were also many online watch parties featuring celebrities and elected officials to make the experience more interactive.

It wasn’t clear how many people attended the parties. In most, only the speakers were visible on the screen. In one watch party, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren rallied progressives, many of whom had preferred Sanders over Biden.

“We must do everything we can to energize and excite our base about the choice before us,” Jayapal said.

The Monday speakers included plenty of Democratic politicians: Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who is the highest-ranking African American in Congress; New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo; Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; Alabama Sen. Doug Jones; Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and two former presidential contenders: Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sanders.


And beyond Kasich, there were three high-profile Republicans backing Biden who got speaking slots: California businesswoman Meg Whitman, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman, and former New York Congresswoman Susan Molinari.

It was impossible to fully gauge America’s interest in the all-virtual format on the first night. Broadcast TV networks are showing the final hour each night live, cable news is showing both hours and many viewers plan to stream from the rivals’ websites or on social media.

Trump, as he often does, was ensuring he’d be a part of the conversation.

The Republican president made two swing-state campaign appearances on Monday, first in Minnesota and then in Wisconsin, which was to be the location for the Democrats’ convention before the coronavirus outbreak.

Trump said he had “no choice” but to campaign during the convention in order to address voters in the face of what he described as hostile news media.

“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” Trump said in Wisconsin, raising anew with no evidence the specter of significant voting fraud.

A Democratic National Convention like no other began on Monday, with virtual guests beamed in from across the country, prerecorded speeches delivered straight to camera, and a handful of Republicans urging fellow conservatives to vote for Joe Biden instead of President Donald Trump.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden appears by video feed from Delaware at the start of the virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention as participants from across the country are hosted over video links from the originally planned site of the convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S. August 17, 2020. 2020 Democratic National Convention/POOL via REUTERS

Here are key takeaways from the opening night of the first-ever virtual convention:

DEMOCRATS’ ‘BIG TENT’

As the opening sequence showed, much about this week’s convention will be about showcasing the cultural and racial diversity on which the Democratic Party prides itself.

But the program, especially Monday’s lineup, had another endgame: demonstrating what the Democrats hope is a “Big Tent” of political ideology, as well.

At one time, it would have been unthinkable for a former Republican presidential candidate such as John Kasich to appear at a Democratic convention to urge his party’s faithful to vote against their own leader.

The former Ohio governor’s speech on Monday night in support of Biden underscored how Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, his scorched-earth rhetoric, and his disinterest in appeasing detractors have turned off some moderate members of his own party.

The speeches by Kasich and other Republicans amounted to an invitation to moderates that the Democratic Party can attend to their interests - even as the liberal Senator Bernie Sanders urged his own supporters to unify behind Biden as well.

In an era of extreme partisan polarization, it is a tall order to ask longtime voters of one party to change sides. But Trump’s deep unpopularity has given Democrats an opportunity, and they are trying to take full advantage.

BIDEN IN THE SPOTLIGHT

One thing to keep in mind during the convention: The American public has not seen that much of Joe Biden during this presidential campaign. He was an also-ran for much of its early stages and when he finally caught fire, COVID-19 largely wiped him off the screen.

So something like the virtual panel Biden held on racial justice on Monday night did more than simply demonstrate that he is sincerely committed to working on issues critical to the party – it also allowed undecided voters to see him in action, engaging and listening.

The Trump campaign has suggested repeatedly that the 77-year-old Biden is not the man he used to be. This convention will look to prove to voters otherwise – culminating in Biden’s nomination speech on Thursday.

The Democratic Party presented a parade of passionate speakers making the case for electing Joe Biden president of the United States on Monday, the first day of a virtual convention to formally nominate him as the party’s nominee to face President Donald Trump in November.

Former Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaks in a frame grab from the live video feed of the all virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention as participants from across the country are hosted over video links to the originally planned site of the convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S. August 17, 2020. 2020 Democratic National Convention/POOL via REUTERS

Quotes from the night are below.

Former first lady Michelle Obama:

“Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can. Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet at this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”

“I know Joe. He is a profoundly decent man guided by faith. He was a terrific vice president. He knows what it takes to rescue an economy, beat back a pandemic, and lead our country. And he listens. He will tell the truth and trust science. He will make smart plans and manage a good team. And will govern as someone who has lived life the rest of us can recognize.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, who was Biden’s leading rival for the party’s nomination:

“This election is the most important in the modern history of this country. In response to the unprecedented set of crises we face, we need an unprecedented response - a movement, like never before, of people who are prepared to stand up and fight for democracy and decency — and against greed, oligarchy, and bigotry.”

“If Donald Trump is re-elected, all the progress we have made will be in jeopardy. At its most basic, this election is about preserving our democracy. During this president’s term, the unthinkable has become normal. “

Kristin Urquiza, who lost her father to COVID-19 and wrote a scathing obituary blaming failed leadership for his death:

“My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life.”

“One of the last things that my father said to me was that he felt betrayed by the likes of Donald Trump. And so when I cast my vote for Joe Biden, I will do it for my Dad.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose state was the early U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak:

“Now we need a leader as good as our people. A leader who appeals to the best within us, not the worst. A leader who can unify, not divide. A leader who can bring us up, not tear us down. I know that man. I’ve worked with that man. I’ve seen his talent. I’ve seen the strength. I’ve seen his pain, and I’ve seen his heart. That man is Joe Biden.”

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer:

“Over the past few months, we’ve learned what’s essential, rising to the challenge, not denying it. We’ve learned who is essential, too, not just the wealthiest among us, not a president who fights his fellow Americans, rather than fight the virus that’s killing us and our economy. It’s the people who put their own health at risk to care for the rest of us. They are the MVPs.”

Meg Whitman, chief executive of Quibi:


“I’m a longtime Republican and a longtime CEO. And let me tell you, Donald Trump has no clue how to run a business, let alone an economy. Joe Biden, on the other hand, has a plan that will strengthen our economy for working people and small- business owners. For me, the choice is simple. I’m with Joe.”

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser:

“We have to undo the laws and systems that have codified racism for far too long. But we have to do something too. Each and every one of us. Challenge our own biases. If we see something, do something. Together, we can turn this reckoning into a reimagining of a nation where ‘We The People’ means all the people.”

Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, whose death in Minneapolis police custody in May sparked waves of anti-racism protests across the country:

“Please join me in a moment of silence to honor George and the many other souls we lost to hate and injustice. And when this moment ends, let’s make sure we never stop saying their names.”

Former Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican:

“Yes, there are areas where Joe and I absolutely disagree. But that’s OK because that’s America. Because whatever our differences, we respect one another as human beings, each of us searching for justice and for purpose.”

“We can all see what’s going on in our country today and all the questions that are facing us, and no one person or party has all the answers. But what we do know is that we can do better than what we’ve been seeing today, for sure. And I know that Joe Biden, with his experience and his wisdom and his decency, can bring us together to help us find that better way.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who competed with Biden for the Democratic nomination:

“Now more than ever, we need a president who will unite this country. We need a president who in George Floyd’s memory, instead of using the Bible as a prop, will heed its words – to act justly. We need a president for the workers who have lost their jobs because this administration is selling American workers out when we need to buy American.”

“The president may hate the Post Office, but he’s still going to have to send them a change of address card come January.”