A trio of POLITICO reporters held a video briefing for Pro subscribers on Thursday to recap the Democratic National Convention — and what comes next for the party — on the day that Joe Biden will formally accept the party’s nomination.
Reporters Chris Cadelago, Sarah Ferris and Zach Montellaro took part in a roundtable discussion to offer insights on an unprecedented virtual convention week and share expectations for the three-month sprint to Election Day.
Democrats’ carefully crafted message was intended to lift Biden — while delivering the party’s strongest rebuke yet of President Donald Trump
Party leaders turned to some of their best-known surrogates, like Barack and Michelle Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton, to make a forceful case against Trump.
As Chris pointed out, the first night was almost entirely devoted to Trump, rebuking four years’ worth of his policy and political decisions — with an unlikely assist from Republicans like former Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The second night was more focused on Biden, his background and his character with testimonials from his wife, Jill Biden, as well as from “regular Americans” who delivered video messages from across America. Democrats also attempted to articulate a more clear vision of their agenda — one of the lingering criticisms of the 2016 campaign — so the third night featured policy ideas, from climate change to social justice.
The more resounding message from Democrats, overall, has been about the dangers of Trump’s presidency.
This week’s convention has been far more subdued, which was somewhat expected due to how the coronavirus has hindered holding a traditional convention. But it was also intentional on behalf of Democrats, at a time of national suffering and real fears within the party about beating Trump.
Without the cheering crowd or the all-day lineup of parties, this year’s DNC feels much less like a celebration than a party-wide “real talk” session about what’s at stake with this year’s election.
As Chris and Sarah explained, Democrats are facing an unprecedented challenge as they crown their nominee amid a global pandemic, with millions of people facing unemployment and economic uncertainty. But at the same time, Democrats need to rouse their base, swaths of which remains unenthusiastic about Biden — while separately seeking to appeal to one-time Trump voters or still-wavering independents. Instead of the quadrennial tradition of having balloons showering from the ceiling, Democrats turned down the volume and leaned into the “speaking from my living room” dynamic.
Republicans have perhaps an even greater challenge ahead of their convention next week, with much less planning to pull off a virtual event.
As Zach noted, Republicans had already moved the location of their convention (from Charlotte, N.C. to Jacksonville, Fla.) before scrapping the large physical event altogether and going virtual. And as Sarah noted, Trump is optics-obsessed and will be leaning on his campaign to deliver all the pomp and circumstance that Democrats largely went without. Already, we know that Trump will be speaking from the White House lawn and plans to hold a fireworks show in D.C. Trump’s advisers have been closely studying the Democrats’ events, as POLITICO’s Gabby Orr and Alex Thompson reported, with the GOP convention next week.
The DNC has already seen a shrinking TV audience compared to past years, though Biden’s campaign has pointed to strong digital viewing numbers, Chris explained. The Trump campaign will be under intense pressure to beat that next week.
Unlike past conventions, Democrats focused heavily on the actual mechanics of voting, amid rising fears in the party about millions of Americans voting by mail for the first time this year.
As Chris explained, Democrats had already been stepping up their messaging on voting long before the pandemic, trying to counterpunch Trump’s frequent (and unproven) allegations of voter fraud. The pandemic, of course, has dramatically altered that dynamic, and more Americans are now expected to vote by mail than ever before.
Democrats are taking the shift seriously, spending precious primetime minutes this week urging people to come up with a voting “plan.” Michelle Obama even told people to wear “comfortable shoes” and pack a lunch in case they have to wait in line. Democrats have urged people to get their absentee ballots and return them as soon as possible, which, as Zach pointed out, means that “Election Day” for early voters could actually fall in September, October or November.
Democrats have also seized on the Trump administration’s cuts to Postal Service operations, which could have major implications for election results.
Sarah explained that the political storm within the Postal Service has been growing since May, when a Trump loyalist, Louis DeJoy, was appointed postmaster general and began implementing cost-cutting measures across the agency. Democrats have been furious at these changes — such as the removal of mail-sorting machines or the elimination of overtime pay — which has led to mail delays nationwide. The House will vote this weekend on a bill to reverse those changes and to infuse the Postal Service with a badly-needed $25 billion boost.
Politically, Democrats are eager to come to the defense of one of the nation’s most popular government agencies. But there’s also a real fear within the party that Trump’s handpicked Postal Service leader could substantially jeopardize millions of ballots, while Trump perpetuates his own unproven theories about voter fraud through the system.
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