Barack Obama unleashed on President Donald Trump in his speech to the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night, saying the administration would do anything to win even if it meant tearing down America’s democracy.
He made a clear, concise argument on why he believes Trump was unqualified to serve in the Oval Office, sounding presidential as he made his case – but also painted a dark vision of the consequences of a second Trump term.
‘This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win,’ he charged in his nearly 20 minute speech, a condemnation of a president by a previous one without historical precedent.
Trump fired back at Obama in an all-caps outburst on Twitter, claiming that ‘HE SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN!’ and deriding Democratic nominee Joe Biden as ‘SLOW JOE’.
The president also said that Obama had ‘refused to endorse’ Biden until late in the Democratic primary and ‘tried to get him not to run’
Obama told Americans last night that the only way to restore the country was to elect Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris in November.
‘We have to get busy building it up – by pouring all our effort into these 76 days, and by voting like never before – for Joe and Kamala, and candidates up and down the ticket, so that we leave no doubt about what this country we love stands for – today and for all our days to come,’ said Obama, his hair gray and demeanor serious.
He put aside post-presidential precedent to deliver an indictment of the man who succeeded him in the Oval Office, calling him lazy, dangerous, and corrupt, accusing him of abusing the military as props, of gassing peaceful protesters and of being willing to do anything for a second term.
And he tried to address Trump voters directly saying he understood why they felt government didn’t work – but decried conspiracy theories, incompetence and the deaths of 170,000, saying: ‘He hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t’ and turning the presidency into ‘a reality show for the attention he craves.’
Obama had swapped places with Kamala Harris to let her end the night – allowing his prosecution of Trump to be followed by her upbeat speech focused on her own story and a message of hope.
Harris introduced herself to voters and told them her story, an American story: her immigrant parents, her birth in California – a likely dig a Trump trying to once again promote ‘birther’ conspiracy claims – meeting her husband Doug on a blind date, her sorority sisters from a historically black sisterhood and her stepchildren, and most of all her late mother, an Indian immigrant.
Democrats made clear they were vying for female votes, filling Wednesday’s program with women: actresses including Kerry Washington and Mariska Hargitay, who gave Joe Biden an endorsement, and Gabby Giffords, the shooting survivor who said: ‘I struggle to speak, but I have not lost my voice.’
Both Hillary Clinton – the first female presidential nominee – and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – the nation’s first female speaker – spoke, but Pelosi got a higher billing.
And the night was capped off with Harris’ nomination to the vice presidential slot. In her remarks, she also played the traditional role a running mate plays – she attacked the rival party’s presidential nominee.
She didn’t mention Trump by name but she made it clear who she was referring to.
She targeted Trump for his ”chaos, incompetence and lost lives’ and joked, as she talked about her backstory as a prosecutor, ‘I know a predator when I see one.’
But Obama led the attack on Trump. He spoke before Harris, a switch in the speaking order made at the request of the former president so he could hand off from his time as party leader to the next generation.
Obama’s criticism was his most direct, harshest to date on the man who followed him into the Oval Office. Obama, on previous occasions, to the frustration of his fellow Democrats, had followed the unspoken rule that former presidents don’t question or criticize the current office holder.
That rule went to the sidelines on Wednesday night.
Obama charged Trump hasn’t grown into the job of president of the United States ‘because he can’t’ and he’s shown ‘no interest in putting in the work’ to be an effective leader.
‘I have sat in the Oval Office with both of the men who are running for president,’ Obama said, making a personal connection to the two candidates running for his old job.
‘I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care,’ he said.
‘Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,’ Obama said.
The former president said he understood why there was cynicism and despair in the United States under Trump’s presidency, saying he understood ‘why a Black mother might feel like it never looked out for her at all.;
He went on to mention some of the more disenfranchised groups, blocs that tend to vote Democrat when they vote.
‘I understand why a new immigrant might look around this country and wonder whether there’s still a place for him here; why a young person might look at politics right now, the circus of it all, the meanness and the lies and crazy conspiracy theories and think, what’s the point?’ he said.
But he warned that attitude was being fostered by President Trump to keep Americans from voting.
‘This president and those in power – those who benefit from keeping things the way they are – they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. That’s how they win,’ he argued.
He urged Americans – like his wife Michelle Obama did in her speech on Monday night – to have a plan to vote.
‘Do not let them take away your power. Don’t let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you’re going to get involved and vote. Do it as early as you can and tell your family and friends how they can vote too,’ he said.
In her speech Monday night, where she too attack Trump in direct, harsh terms, Michelle Obama touched on Democratic fears that President Trump would try to delegitimize the election should Biden win.
‘We have to vote for Joe Biden in numbers that cannot be ignored. Because right now, folks who know they cannot win fair and square at the ballot box are doing everything they can to stop us from voting,’ she said.
Democrats fear voter disenfranchisement amid Trump’s attacks on mail-in ballots as fraudulent – despite numerous studies that show that is not the case – and amid concerns about delays in the U.S. Postal Service could mean ballots do not arrive in time to be counted.
Kamala Harris, in a break with tradition, made short remarks at the beginning of Wednesday’s session to plead with people to have a voting plan.
‘So I think we need to ask oursvlves why don’t they want us to vote? Why is there so much effort to silence our voices?’ she asked. ‘And the answer is because when we vote things change. When we vote things get better, when we vote we address the need for all people to be treated with dignity and respect in our country.’
Barack Obama, in his speech, also charged President Trump, the former star of NBC’s ‘The Apprentice,’ with running a ‘reality show’ out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue merely for the sake of his ego.
‘For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves,’ Obama said.
Trump issued his response via Twitter – sending out messages in all caps as Obama spoke.
‘HE SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN, AND GOT CAUGHT!,’ Trump roared, referring to an FBI counter investigation into his 2016 presidential campaign to see if Russia was trying to influence the election.
‘WHY DID HE REFUSE TO ENDORSE SLOW JOE UNTIL IT WAS ALL OVER, AND EVEN THEN WAS VERY LATE? WHY DID HE TRY TO GET HIM NOT TO RUN?,’ Trump added.
Traditionally, the nominee of the other party stays quiet during their rival’s convention week. Trump threw that rule out the window this week with his trips to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Arizona to criticize Biden. The president will give an interview to Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday night – the night Biden accepts the Democrats’ presidential nomination – and he’ll visit Pennsylvania that day too, making a stop near Biden’s hometown of Scranton.
Obama spoke from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, in front of an exhibit entitled ‘Writing the Constitution,’ in one of the few live speeches in the virtual convention.
He gave a cool, calm, structured argument that outlined why he believed President Trump was not qualified to serve in the Oval Office.
‘The one Constitutional office elected by all of the people is the presidency. So at minimum, we should expect a president to feel a sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of all 330 million of us – regardless of what we look like, how we worship, who we love, how much money we have – or who we voted for,’ he said.
‘We should also expect a president to be the custodian of this democracy. We should expect that regardless of ego, ambition, or political beliefs, the president will preserve, protect, and defend the freedoms and ideals that so many Americans marched for and went to jail for; fought for and died for,’ he noted.
Obama, a former law professor, began his remarks with a legal argument but transition to an endorsement of Biden’s character and qualifications to be president.
He called his former vice president his ‘brother’ and spoke of his empathy.
‘Twelve years ago, when I began my search for a vice president, I didn’t know I’d end up finding a brother,’ Obama said. ‘Joe and I came from different places and different generations. But what I quickly came to admire about him is his resilience, born of too much struggle; his empathy, born of too much grief.’
He made his support the Biden/Harris ticket clear.
‘For eight years, Joe was the last one in the room whenever I faced a big decision. He made me a better president – and he’s got the character and the experience to make us a better country. And in my friend Kamala Harris, he’s chosen an ideal partner who’s more than prepared for the job; someone who knows what it’s like to overcome barriers and who’s made a career fighting to help others live out their own American dream,’ he said.
Obama targeted Trump’s most controversial moments as president when he noted a ‘Commander-in-Chief doesn’t use the men and women of our military, who are willing to risk everything to protect our nation, as political props to deploy against peaceful protesters on our own soil.’
Not only did he target Trump’s response to the Black Lives Matter protesters, he slammed the president for targeting the media and for questioning the patriotism of anyone who opposed him politically.
And he said Trump simply makes stuff up.
‘They understand that political opponents aren’t ‘un-American’ just because they disagree with you; that a free press isn’t the ‘enemy’ but the way we hold officials accountable; that our ability to work together to solve big problems like a pandemic depends on a fidelity to facts and science and logic and not just making stuff up,’ he said.
He ended his speech with words of compassion.
‘Stay safe. God bless,’ he said.
Ahead of his remarks, convention organizers showed a video from the January 13, 2017 White House ceremony when then-President Obama honoured Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civil honor – in a move to highlight the close bond the two shared during their time in office together.
Obama, who spent most of his professional career in Chicago, has strong ties to Philadelphia. It was where he gave one of his most important speeches: when he talked about race when he ran for president in 2008.
Philadelphia was also the site of the Democrats’ convention four years ago.
And Obama appeared alongside Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and his wife Michelle, on the eve of election night in 2016, at a packed, outdoor rally on the campus of Independence Hall.
But that last minute stop didn’t help her campaign.
Pennsylvania was the state that helped hand Trump the Oval Office – he was the first Republican to win it in more than 20 years. Biden, a native of Scranton, will try to put it back in Democrats’ corner in November.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touted Joe Biden’s candidacy at the Democratic convention as she replayed parts of her own 2016 loss – and urged people to get out and vote so President Donald Trump doesn’t ‘steal’ the election.
Speaking from her home in Chappaqua, New York, the former first lady and Democratic presidential nominee spoke admiringly about Biden and his policy agenda, and repeatedly mentioned his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris.
‘And don’t forget Joe and Kamala can win by 3 million votes and still lose – take it from me,’ she said with a chuckle – pointing to her popular vote win that still didn’t get her to the White House due to the electoral college system.
‘So we need numbers overwhelming, so Trump can’t sneak or steal his way to victory,’ Clinton warned.
She was echoing concerns raised by Biden, on a day the White House refused to say definitively Trump would accept the election results.
But her placement on the night saw her speech run before the 10pm start of network television coverage, and before a min-documentary praising Nancy Pelosi, who gave the next speech, making the Speaker – not the 2016 runner-up – the bigger star of the house.
In her speech Clinton hammered Trump, who called to ‘lock her up’ during his campaign and continues to bring her up repeatedly.
‘As Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders warned us, if Trump is reelected things will get even worse. That’s why we need unity now more than ever,’ she said, wearing white as the convention marked the centennial of women’s suffrage.
‘Remember back in 2016 when Trump asked: ‘What do you have to lose?’ Well, now we know. Our health care, our jobs our loved ones. Our leadership in the world and even our post office,’ said Clinton.
‘But let’s set our sights higher than getting one man out of the White House,’ she said, breezing through Biden’s policy agenda in her brief remarks.
She said there was ‘so much to vote for,’ mentioning climate change, ‘caregiving living wages,’ emergency relief, and confronting an economy that allowed billionaires to get ‘$400 billion richer’ during the pandemic.
She spoke for less than 7 minutes – longer than the time her husband Bill Clinton got.
The former first lady’s remarks were followed by a video tribute leading into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s remarks. It showed the future congresswoman and pathbreaker as a child, with images of her family and her first run for Congress.
Pelosi, who has become the primary opposition to Trump, was quoted making her own ‘marble ceiling’ line upon assuming the speakership in 2007, predating Clinton’s ‘glass ceiling’ line in 2016, with images of her first congressional win.
The Pelosi video also featured some of her battles with President Donald Trump that have made her an icon among the Democratic faithful. First was when she fought with the president during a December 2018 Oval Office meeting about a government shutdown. Afterward Pelosi walked out of the White House, wearing an orange coat and donning her sunglasses – an image that went viral.
The video also showed a photo from an October 2019 meeting in the White House that saw Democrats walk out over, charging Trump with having a meltdown. The White House released a photo showing Pelosi standing up, finger pointed at Trump. She made it her Twitter profile picture.
‘As Speaker, I’ve seen firsthand Donald Trump’s disrespect for facts, for working families, and for women in particular,’ Pelosi said. ‘But we know what he doesn’t: that when women succeed, America succeeds.’
She also touted Biden’s support for women.
‘Joe Biden is the President we need right now: battle-tested, forward-looking, honest and authentic. He has never forgotten where he comes from and who he fights for,’ she said.
‘Our nation faces the worst health and economic catastrophe in our history: more than 5 million Americans are infected by the coronavirus,’ Pelosi said. ‘And who is standing in the way? [Sen.] Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. Instead of crushing the virus, they’re trying to crush the Affordable Care Act—and its protections for preexisting conditions.’
During her speech, Clinton warned voters not to let 2020 be a ‘coulda shoulda woulda election’ and said people still come up to her they wish they had not voted for her 2016 rival.
Clinton told convention viewers people come to her to justify their votes for Trump or express that they didn’t cast a ballot.
‘For four years, people have said to me, ‘I didn’t realize how dangerous he was.’ ‘I wish I could go back and do it over.’ Or worst, ‘I should have voted,’ Clinton said.
‘Well, this can’t be another woulda coulda shoulda election. If you vote by mail, request your ballot now, and send it back as soon as you can,’ she continues. ‘If you vote in person, do it early. Bring a friend and wear a mask. Become a poll worker. Most of all, no matter what, vote. Vote like our lives and livelihoods are on the line, because they are.’
Clinton, speaking a night after her husband Bill Clinton gave a 5-minute video address, echoed a theme of the convention: Trump ‘is who he is.’ She is resurrecting a withering line by former first lady Michelle Obama, who also included a similar line in her well-received speech, after Trump used the phrase while explaining the thousands of coronavirus deaths in the country during the pandemic.
‘I wish Donald Trump had been a better president. But, sadly, he is who he is. America needs a president who shows the same compassion, determination, and leadership in the White House that we see in our communities,’ Clinton said.
‘Throughout this crisis, Americans have kept going – checking on neighbors, showing up to jobs as first responders and in hospitals, grocery stores, and nursing homes. Because it still takes a village,’ she said, quoting her own book.
The ex-candidate who spoke of the highest ‘glass ceiling’ throughout her 2016 campaign also invoked the historic fight for the vote by women – at a time when Biden holds a big edge over Trump with women but trails among men.
‘100 years ago yesterday, the 19th Amendment was ratified. It took seven decades of suffragists marching, picketing, and going to jail to push us closer to a more perfect union. 55 years ago, John Lewis marched and bled in Selma because that work was unfinished,’ she said.
Now it is Biden running mate California Sen. Kamala Harris who is positioned as the female politician with the perhaps the best chance of reaching Clinton’s unfulfilled White House dream.
‘There’s a lot of heartbreak in America right now – and the truth is, many things were broken before the pandemic. But, as the saying goes, the world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places. Joe Biden knows how to heal, unify, and lead, because he’s done all of that for his family and his country.’