WASHINGTON – Night one made history.
Literally. The opening night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention was unlike others before it. Performers and speakers gathered virtually, coming to Americans’ living rooms from states across the nation amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The event largely centered on COVID-19, racial justice and testimonials from Democrats – including former first lady Michelle Obama – who called former Vice President Joe Biden a man of compassion who would unite the country. The evening also featured remarks from Republicans such as former presidential candidate John Kasich who were now backing Biden.
Here’s a rundown of some of the top moments:
Michelle Obama on Trump: ‘He is clearly in over his head’
Former first lady Michelle Obama headlined the first day of speeches by saying the presidential election would reveal the character of the nation.
“Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country,” Obama said. “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 this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”
Obama, wearing a gold necklace that spelled out “VOTE,” urged voters to turn out in force to give Biden an overwhelming victory.
“We’ve got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it,” she said.
She said Trump badly mishandled the pandemic, which has cost more 170,000 lives and left millions unemployed, and said he lacks the judgment and moral compass needed to lead the country through the crisis.
“You simply cannot fake your way through this job,” she said.
Obama also criticized the administration’s response to the Black Lives Matter protests and its treatment of migrant families at the border.
“That’s not just disappointing, but downright infuriating,” Obama said. “They watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages, and pepper spray and rubber bullets are used on peaceful protesters for a photo-op.”
Obama also touched on one of her famous lines, “When they go low, we go high,” and explained that means avoiding dehumanizing and degrading tactics, but doesn’t “mean putting on a smile and saying nice things when confronted by viciousness and cruelty.”
“Going high means taking the harder path. It means scraping and clawing our way to that mountain top,” she said. “Going high means standing fierce against hatred while remembering that we are one nation under God, and if we want to survive, we’ve got to find a way to live together and work together across our differences.”
Trump responded in an early morning tweet Tuesday, saying Obama’s husband, the former president, gave only a “very late & unenthusiastic endorsement” to Biden. Trump also claimed he won the White House because of the shortcomings of the Obama administration.
“Somebody please explain to @MichelleObama that Donald J. Trump would not be here, in the beautiful White House, if it weren’t for the job done by your husband, Barack Obama,” the president tweeted.
Republicans backing Biden
Monday’s event included a segment dedicated to Republicans who were backing Biden, dubbed “We The People Putting Country Over Party.”
Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ran against Trump in the 2016 Republican primaries, headlined the event and opened his remarks by standing at the intersection of two gravel roads and noting the country was at a crossroads.
“Sometimes elections represent a real choice, the choice we make as individuals and as a nation about which path we want to take when we’ve come to challenging times,” he said. “America is at that crossroads today.”
He noted that he was a proud Republican and has disagreements with some of Biden’s policies, but those differences were part of the fabric of America’s political system.
“I’m a lifelong Republican, but that attachment holds second place to my responsibility to my country,” Kasich said. “That’s why I’ve chosen to appear at this convention. In normal times, something like this would probably never happen, but these are not normal times.”
He ended his remarks with an appeal to other Republicans and independents who might have reservations about voting for Biden, including those who backed Trump in 2016. He acknowledged those who “fear Joe may turn sharp left” but said, “I don’t believe that because I know the measure of the man: reasonable, faithful, respectful.”
“And you know, no one pushes Joe around,” he added with a smile.
Other Republicans who spoke at the convention included former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman; former Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y.; and Quibi CEO Meg Whitman, who ran for governor of California as a Republican.
The segment was followed by a video montage showing Republican voters across the country who backed Trump and were now planning to vote for Biden.
A virtual event for the history books
Democrats got to test drive a virtual nominating convention for the first time in history because of the coronavirus pandemic.
So what did that look like? The two-hour event on Monday provided a sense of what voters will see as they tune in over the next two weeks during the rest of the Democratic event and the Republican convention next week: Highly produced videos featuring voters, Zoom-meeting like speeches from politicians and a moderator moving quickly from segment to segment.
The event featured some awkward pauses between speakers and even virtual applause from supporters in their living rooms, but was largely free of technical glitches.
The first minutes of the Democratic National Convention, which largely abandoned its physical events in Milwaukee, included a national anthem sung by children from several states, the family of George Floyd, a conversation with small business owners, a performance by Leon Bridges and a discussion Biden moderated with racial justice activists.
Traditional conventions often included similar videos and musical performances between keynote speakers, but cable and broadcast networks often used that time to offer commentary on the upcoming speakers. Cable networks covering the DNC largely ran the event in its entirety – giving the party an uninterrupted platform to show not just high-profile remarks but also the ad-like videos accompanying them.
George Floyd family holds moment of silence
Monday’s event centered on the events that have largely dominated the last several months, from the coronavirus to the nation’s reckoning with racial injustice.
The event featured family members of George Floyd, a black man whose death at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer in May spurred worldwide protests. Philonise Floyd, Floyd’s brother, honored his brother’s memory and also those of the countless other African Americans who have died after interactions with the police with a moment of silence.
“It’s up to us to carry on the fight for justice. Our actions will be their legacies,” he said. “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.”
Before Floyd’s family spoke, Americans heard from Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser as she kicked off a segment on “demanding racial justice” by criticizing Donald Trump’s handling of the protests against excessive law enforcement.
“While we were peacefully protesting, Donald Trump was plotting,” Bowser said, standing in front of a “Black Lives Matter” mural that was painted amid protests in the city. Bowser said every American has to do something – “each and every one of us” – to “turn this reckoning into a reimaging of a nation where ‘We The People,’ means all the people.”
She criticized the use of tear gas and pepper spray to clear Lafayette Park across from the White House before a Trump photo op in which he stood in front of a church holding a Bible.
“I knew if he did this to D.C.,” Bowser said, “he would do it to your city or your town.”
Sanders, other 2020 candidates ask for Democratic unity
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s rivals in the contentious primaries gathered virtually Monday to support the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“Unity isn’t about settling,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. “We need a president for all of America.”
Former presidential candidates — in a video montage — talked about why they ran, what they were fighting for and why they believe Biden will bring the nation together.
Those candidates included: Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; Klobuchar, Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.; former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas; Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang.
“You have the most destructive, hateful, racist president in the history of this country who is literally tearing apart the fabric of the United States of America,” Booker said.
Gillibrand said as she watched Trump divide the country, she asked herself what she was willing to do to stop him.
“Donald Trump does not understand who we are as Americans,” said Harris, whose speech accepting the nomination as Biden’s running mate is scheduled for Wednesday.
After the montage of candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders offered remarks with a plea to the progressive wing of the party to rally around Biden.
“My friends, I say to you, to everyone who supported other candidates in the primary and to those who may have voted for Donald Trump in the last election: The future of our democracy is at stake,” Sanders said. “The future of our economy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake. We must come together, defeat Donald Trump and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our next president and vice president.”
He added: “My friends, the price of failure is just too great to imagine.”
COVID loss: ‘His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump’
A woman whose father voted for President Donald Trump, but who also died from COVID-19, offered blistering criticism of the president’s management of the health crisis Monday night, marking one of the most powerful speeches of the event.
Mark Anthony Urquiza died June 30 after three weeks of battling the respiratory illness. In his obituary in the Arizona Republic, his daughter Kristin Urquiza wrote that his death was due to the carelessness of politicians unwilling or unable to give clear and decisive direction.
“My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life,” Urquiza said at the convention. “The coronavirus has made it clear that there are two Americas: the America that Donald Trump lives in and the America that my father died in.”
In a brief but powerful straight-to-camera appearance, with family photos interspersed throughout, Urquiza spoke for fewer than three minutes, offering a searing rebuke of the Trump administration.
“The coronavirus has made it clear that there are two Americas, the America that Donald Trump lives in, and the America that my father died in,” she said. “Enough is enough. Donald Trump may not have caused the coronavirus, but his dishonesty and irresponsible actions made it so much worse.”
Biden has accused Trump of mismanagement during the crisis. Biden called for a nationwide testing program, proposed to hire 100,000 workers to trace the contacts of people who become infected.
Trump said he’s done “really well” combating the virus by supporting the most testing in the world and by spurring the manufacture of thousands of ventilators to help the sick.
“We’re very close to the vaccine and therapeutics,” Trump told a crowd Monday in Mankato, Minn. “We’ve done ventilators to a level that we’re helping the rest of the world with the ventilators. And we’ve done really well.”