When Joe Biden addresses the nation tonight in the closing moments of the Democratic National Convention, he’ll be speaking for the first time as his party’s official presidential nominee.
But the task before him will be a familiar one.
In front of the largest televised audience of his career, Mr. Biden’s big challenge will be to master a careful balancing act — between the Democratic Party’s resurgent left wing and the moderate voters, including Republicans, looking for an even-tempered alternative to President Trump.
The good news for the soon-to-be nominee is that, in a sense, this has been the story of his career. Across nearly four decades in the Senate, Mr. Biden was known as a dealmaker and a pragmatist, far better at tacking to the political winds than at, say, keeping his foot out of his mouth.
The not-so-good news is: There’s a ton of balancing to be done.
Mr. Biden’s campaign slogan, “Build Back Better,” gets at his core dilemma this year: how to show that he will go beyond the policies of the Obama administration, even as he proudly heralds his achievements as its vice president.
Related to that is the question of just how far left Mr. Biden should move when Democrats have the opportunity to win over a large haul of disaffected moderate Republican voters.
“Sanders did his part by giving a good strong endorsement to the vice president,” said Jim Manley, a veteran Democratic strategist, referring to Senator Bernie Sanders’s speech on Night 1 of the convention. “Tonight I think the vice president has got to repay him by acknowledging some of the issues that progressives have been raising — while not turning off some of those in the suburbs that he still needs to court.”
Democrats have taken pains to sell Mr. Biden as a palatable choice for anti-Trump Republicans, highlighting his history as a bipartisan dealmaker: his authorship of the Violence Against Women Act and his friendships with senators in both major parties.
The convention has also included speeches from well-known Republicans like Colin Powell, the secretary of state under President George W. Bush, and John Kasich, the former governor of Ohio, as well as the video montage that aired on Tuesday extolling Mr. Biden’s close relationship with Senator John McCain, who died in 2018.
But the idea of bipartisan cooperation feels quaint today, making Mr. Biden’s main challenge holding together — while expanding — the coalition within his own party.
“He can’t run the risk of talking so optimistically about bipartisanship that he sounds tone-deaf to the new era of hyper-partisanship that exists within the current Congress,” Mr. Manley said.
‘Build Back Better’ — but how?
Mr. Biden’s primary campaign was infamously light on policy ideas, which has given him room to maneuver. After becoming the presumptive nominee, he released a series of policy frameworks drawn up in collaboration with allies of Mr. Sanders, and a range of costly proposals emphasizing boldness and vision.
When discussing economic matters, he has used his role in negotiating the 2009 stimulus bill as a central talking point. But progressives have never stopped lamenting the bill’s shortfalls, and because its impact was not loudly trumpeted at the time, most middle-of-the-road voters did not come to see the legislation as a major victory.
That helps explain the emphasis Mr. Biden has put on his commitment to passing a green infrastructure bill that he says will create millions of good-paying jobs. But he will have to fight critics on the right who say his proposal, which has much in common with the “Green New Deal,” goes too far.
Similarly, on health care, Mr. Biden has spoken often of the part he played in helping pass the Affordable Care Act, even though many Americans continue to see it as flawed: Just 42 percent of registered voters nationwide — including only 37 percent of independents — said the law had been a good idea, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released in March.
But the “Medicare for all” proposal pushed by Mr. Sanders and other progressives was no more popular, with only 43 percent of voters supporting it, according to the NBC/Journal poll. Mr. Biden’s proposal, adding a Medicare-like public option to Obamacare, was far more popular, approved of by nearly three in four voters in the poll.
When it comes to racial justice, Mr. Biden also has a delicate line to walk. He is seeking to harness the momentum of a racial-justice movement that has drawn an uncommonly strong wave of popular support — but he has shied away from embracing some of its most trenchant elements. While he supports the sweeping police reform bill passed by the House, he has resisted calls to “defund the police.”
Notably absent from most Democrats’ convention speeches this week were mentions of the clashes, in cities such as Portland, Ore., between protesters and federal agents ordered in by Mr. Trump. Polling has shown Americans roughly split on whether Mr. Trump was right to send in those officers.
It’s an open question whether Mr. Biden gives voice to the outrage of many liberals who see Mr. Trump’s actions in Portland as a gross abuse of power, or if he stays away from the issue out of fear of being associated with leftist organizers.
Beyond questions of policy, there’s one more balancing act that Mr. Biden will have to master: assuaging concerns about his age (he’s 77) and mental acuity, without mentioning it explicitly. In an attack ad released this week, Mr. Trump’s campaign portrayed Mr. Biden as having lost his step in recent years, comparing a range of clips from 2015 and 2016 in which he speaks clearly and forcefully to videos from this year showing Mr. Biden fumbling for words.
There’s probably only one way Mr. Biden will be able to quiet those fears tonight: with a steady, smooth delivery — no matter what the substance is.
Who else will speak tonight
Mr. Biden will deliver his speech from the same eerily quiet stage that his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, stood on last night. But before he does, a smattering of other high-profile speakers will also give speeches, including four former candidates for the presidential nomination: Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael R. Bloomberg.
There will also be a video montage featuring more of Mr. Biden’s former Democratic rivals, speaking about their (presumably high) opinion of him. The evening will be hosted by the actress — and fantasy veep — Julia Louis-Dreyfuss.
It all gets going at 9 p.m. Our reporters will once again be online to offer live analysis at nytimes.com, where you can also view the full broadcast. CNN, MSNBC and PBS will show the full two-hour broadcast, but Fox News and the major broadcast TV networks will air only the event’s second half.
In other news …
Stephen K. Bannon, the former senior Trump adviser, defrauded donors to the tune of nearly $1 million, according to a federal indictment unsealed in Manhattan today.
Along with three other people who helped set up a private group through GoFundMe, Mr. Bannon falsely assured hundreds of thousands of donors that their money would be used only to construct a new section of the president’s U.S.-Mexico border wall, the indictment says.
Mr. Bannon was arrested this morning on a yacht off the coast of Connecticut and pleaded not guilty in a New York courtroom this afternoon.
Mr. Trump received some bad legal news of his own today, when a Federal District Court judge rejected the president’s latest attempt to avoid handing over his tax returns to the Manhattan district attorney who is investigating his business practices.
David C. Williams, the former vice chairman of the U.S. Postal Service’s board of governors, told lawmakers today that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was trying to turn the Postal Service into a “political tool.”
Mr. Williams, who resigned in protest earlier this year, said Mr. Mnuchin had used a Treasury-backed line of credit to exert political influence over the agency, “ending its long history as an apolitical public infrastructure.”
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