More than seven months after Donald Trump’s presidential victory stunned Democrats, former Vice President Joe Biden offered yet another critique of his party’s failings — and perhaps a rationale for his own 2020 candidacy — in a Saturday night speech that faulted Democrats for losing touch with a crucial segment of voters.
Biden accused Trump of appealing to “some of the darkest emotions in this nation” in his 2016 campaign. But he said Democrats have failed to address the anxieties of middle-class voters and need to treat their opponents with “dignity.”
The 74-year-old Biden, who hasn’t ruled out a 2020 run for president, delivered a 50-minute speech to 1,300 Democratic activists at the Florida Democratic Party’s annual Leadership Blue fundraising dinner at the Diplomat Beach Resort. It was vintage Biden — shouting at times, stage-whispering at others, digressing into Senate cloakroom tales from the 1970s, invoking his childhood home of Scranton, Pa., and his father’s advice and boasting of his lunch bucket bona fides.
Biden gave a plug for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson’s 2018 re-election bid and offered to hit the Florida campaign trail for him, which would also keep Biden in the eye of voters in America’s largest swing state.
,@JoeBiden: "The nation is waiting for the Democratic Party to reassert itself"— George Bennett (@gbennettpost) June 18, 2017
“Bill, I’ll come back to Florida as many times as you want to campaign for you or against you, whichever one helps the most,” Biden joked.
Biden also gave a shout-out to state Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, who has known Biden since his 2008 presidential run and is friends with Biden’s youngest brother, Frank, of Delray Beach.
Frank Biden recently told CNN’s Michael Smerconish that there is “absolutely” a chance his brother will run for president in 2020.
Biden did not mention Trump by name on Saturday night, but he noted that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton got 3 million more votes nationwide than “the other guy.” Trump won more electoral votes by edging Clinton in Florida and other states that President Barack Obama had carried before.
Votes from “people frightened and disregarded cost us the presidency,” Biden said.
“There’s that slice of people we had — Barack and I had, Democrats have always had – that don’t think we understand them. It’s not a lot, but it’s the difference in the election. We need to let them know we understand their fears, concerns. And that we have some real answers,” Biden said.
“We have to make it clear what we stand for. We have to refocus our attention on how to unite America and the values for which we stand,” said Biden.
“We can’t get bogged down — I hope don’t offend anybody here — in this phony debate going on in the Democratic Party. The Hobson’s choice we’ve been given is: Do we become less progressive and focus on working folk, or forget about working folk and become more progressive? There is no need to choose. They are not inconsistent.”
Biden offered a harsh analysis of the way Trump won in 2016.
“This past election cycle that we just went through churned up some of the ugliest realities that persist in our country. Civilized discourse and real debate gave way to the coarsest rhetoric, stroking some of the darkest emotions in this nation,” Biden said.
“I thought we had passed the days when it was acceptable for a politician to bestow legitimacy on hate speech and fringe ideologies,” said Biden. But, he said, “Notwithstanding the base appeal that was made, there are a lot of people out there who are both afraid and were susceptible to this negative appeal.”
It sounded a little like Clinton’s infamous “basket of deplorables” dismissal of many Trump supporters or Obama’s 2008 slighting of small-town voters who “get bitter, (and) they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
But Biden said Democrats need to treat the voters they lost with respect.
“We have to treat the opposition with more dignity,” said Biden, who said Democrats should stay away from “personal vitriol” and questioning the motives of their opponents.
Biden predicted things will turn around for Democrats.
“I assure you, that the state of the nation we are in today will not be sustained by the American people…We are better than this,” Biden said.
“We have to pick our heads up and start thinking big again,” he said. “The nation is waiting for the Democratic Party to reassert itself.”