Joe Biden invoked the memory of the deadly “Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia while introducing his new running mate Kamala Harris Wednesday night to deliver an aggressive attack on the character and performance of U.S. President Donald Trump in their historic first appearance as running mates.
While the pandemic made a traditional campaign rollout impossible, it gave Biden and Harris a setting to emphasize their criticism of Trump as unable to contend with the most severe public health crisis in a century.
In his introduction of Harris, Biden tied Trump to the deadly events of Charlottesville three years ago. “It’s also the third anniversary of that terrible day in Charlottesville. Remember? Remember what it felt like to see those neo-Nazis, close your eyes, and those Klansmen, white supremacists, coming,” Biden said
The former vice president asked those listening to “close your eyes” and remember “those Klansmen, white supremacists, coming out of fields, carrying lighted torches, faces contorted, bulging veins, pouring into the streets of a historic American city, spewing the same antisemitic bile we heard in Hitler’s Germany in the ’30s.”
“It was a wake-up call for all of us as a country,” Biden continued, adding that he decided to run after Trump said later that there were “very fine people on both sides” at the rally. “I knew we were in the battle for the soul of the nation,” he concluded.
The conservative run, anti-Trump group the Lincoln Project also released an ad featuring the events of Charlottesville three years ago. The ad entitled “Nothing has changed” attempts to tie Trump’s response to the recent George Floyd protests to the violence at the “Unite the Right’ rally.
The Lincoln Project ads have attacked Trump over his response to economic and health crises and racial tensions, targeting wavering Trump voters and independents.
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Besides The Lincoln Project, several Republican-backed groups have been formed in recent months to support Biden including 43 Alumni for Biden, a super PAC involving hundreds of officials who served in Republican President George W. Bush's administration, and a coalition of former Republican national security officials.
Harris was particularly sharp in her condemnation of Trump the administration’s handling of the coronavirus.
“The case against Donald Trump and Mike Pence is open and shut,” Harris said. “This virus has impacted almost every country. But there’s a reason it has hit America worse than any other advanced nation. It’s because of Trump’s failure to take it seriously from the start.”
She added: “This is what happens when we elect a guy who just isn’t up for the job.”
Harris is the first Black woman on a major party’s presidential ticket, and she and Biden noted the historical significance.
“This morning, all across the nation, little girls woke up — especially little black and brown girls, who so often feel overlooked and undervalued in their communities. But today, today, just maybe, they’re seeing themselves for the first time in a new way,” Biden said.
Harris, who is also of South Asian descent, noted the “heroic and ambitious women before me, whose sacrifice, determination and resilience make my presence here today even possible.”
For his part, Trump has struggled to land on a coherent message about the Biden-Harris ticket, casting the Democrats as simultaneously too liberal for America and yet not progressive enough for their party’s base. Trump has resorted to sexist and racist criticism, referring to Harris as “nasty” and tweeting that “the ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me” to keep neighborhoods safe.
He also noted the two Democrats’ disagreements during the primary campaign last year.
“She said horrible things about him,” Trump said Wednesday. “She mocked him, openly mocked him. That’s why I thought that was a very risky pick. Because I’m sure that will be played back.”
But onstage in Wilmington, Biden and Harris showed clear affection toward one another. He called his running mate an “honorary Biden,” and Harris offered a poignant tribute to his son Beau, whom she was friends with when both served as state attorneys general. Biden seemed overcome with emotion as Harris spoke of Beau, who died in 2015, as “the best of us” and a man who modeled himself after his father.
She signaled that she’ll offer a vigorous defense of Biden’s qualifications on issues of race and civil rights, though she made headlines for assailing him for his past opposition to federally mandated busing during a primary debate.
Noting Biden’s own vice presidency under President Barack Obama, she said he “takes his place in the ongoing story of America’s march towards equality and justice” as the only person “who’s served alongside the first Black president and has chosen the first Black woman as his running mate.”
Biden’s choice of Harris brought more than just historical weight to the ticket — it also provided a big fundraising boost for the campaign. He announced at a later online fundraiser that the campaign raised $26 million in the 24 hours since she was announced, with 150,000 people giving for the first time.