Less than one week after being targeted by a mail bomber who appeared to have focused on political opponents of Republican President Donald Trump, Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden lamented the state of public discourse in the country and the “phony populism” that’s taken over.
Part meditation on politics since Trump took office and part nostalgia for a time before the 2016 election – and possibly part testing the waters for a 2020 presidential bid – Biden’s speech at Youngstown State University’s Kilcawley Center started as a heady meditation before ending with a call-to-arms to elect Democrats up and down the ticket.
Biden decried what he described as the erosion of American ideals at the hands of Trump and his divisive political style. Racism, jingoism and anti-Semitism have been allowed to spread, Biden said, pointing to the Charlottesville riots, the separation of children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border and the recent shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead.
“Folks, this is a distorted world view,” Biden said. “When that hatred is given space to fester, it encourages the seedier side of society to come out from the rocks. It legitimates them.”
Biden called it a kind of moral decay on the part of America as a whole, with Trump and his administration complicit. Biden pointed to Trump’s statement after Charlottesville, where the president seemed reluctant to criticize the white supremacists who marched in the streets and incited violence – including killing one counter-protester.
“These values are being shredded by an administration that is putting their own interests before the ideals – the ideals that we stand for. Amassing power. Abusing power,” Biden said.
The midterms were a chance to change that, Biden said.
“This Republican Party is not your father’s Republican Party, man,” he said. “These are different bunch of dudes. You’ve got a Republican Party and a United States Congress that knows better – they know better! – than to give this guy all the cover they’re giving him.”
Biden’s speech was markedly different, even from the slate of Ohio Democrats who spoke before him. While Ohio Democrats haven’t been afraid to criticize Trump, they also haven’t gone out of their way to do so since Trump won the state in 2016 by 8 percentage points.
Biden, however, was much more direct, possibly testing the ground for a potential 2020 presidential bid against Trump. The former vice president served for years as a senator from Delaware and was widely considered folksy enough to connect with people throughout the Midwest. Throughout the speech, he constantly referred to the crowd as us, representing his working-class background as similar to those in the Mahoning Valley.
Ohio Republicans were unimpressed.
“Joe Biden is nothing but a reminder of the past, and Ohio isn’t interested in taking our economy backward,” said Mandi Merritt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
Whether or not Biden decides to run, his ultimate goal for Monday was to get voters excited to both vote and stump for Democrats in the state, particularly Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Richard Cordray. Cordray was appointed director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by President Obama and was friendly with Beau Biden, the vice-president’s now-deceased son.
“I’m here because who ends up being governor of Ohio is going to tell a lot about the country,” Biden said. “Not a joke. Think about this. Think about this. The next president of the United States of America – Democrat or Republican – is not going to president unless they have Ohio and Pennsylvania.”
Biden’s visit is just the latest in what has been an incredibly active midterm cycle in Ohio. His visit comes two months after President Barack Obama campaigned in the state, also stumping for Richard Cordray in one of his first events of the 2018 election.
Meanwhile, Trump has peppered the state with visits since the 2016 election and asserted near total control over the state party. Trump is slated to visit Cleveland on Nov. 5, the day before the election, but not before Republican Vice President Mike Pence also makes his way to Mansfield.