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DNC Day One Focuses on Trump’s Controversies, Courting Conservative Voters

Much of the programming during the first evening of the DNC was focused reaching out to Republicans and other conservatives.

Former Vice President Joe Biden

Former Vice President Joe Biden

Clint Spaulding

Music videos and webcam interviews replaced the usual bombastic live performances and speeches interrupted by cheering crowds during the first day of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. This DNC’s virtual format was unprecedented, and the four-day event poses a uniquely important opportunity for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.

While the 2020 presidential election is over two months away, this week’s Democratic National Convention will likely be Biden’s biggest and best chance to motivate Democratic voters to turn out for Joe Biden in November. Unlike all American presidential elections in recent history, large campaigning events are unlikely to happen this voting season due to the coronavirus pandemic, while the upcoming presidential debates are unlikely to sway Democrats toward Trump, who presumably will not vote for the President in any meaningful numbers. The DNC allows Biden a highly-publicized opportunity to energize Democratic voters, particularly the party factions that did not express widespread support for his campaign during the Democratic primaries.

Instead, the convention’s first day appeared primarily focused on winning over conservatives and other voters who may favor Trump. Four former Republican politicians — former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former New York Rep. Susan Molinari, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, and Quibi CEO Meg Whitman — were featured during the event, and Kasich’s speech was specifically tailored for conservative viewers. Kasich, who wrote-in John McCain in the 2016 election, argued against right-wing claims that Biden would be a “sharp left president” and stated that he was a lifelong Republican who was only supporting Biden because he was against Trump’s presidency.

It’s common for political conventions to feature speakers from opposing parties and though Kasich was the only one of the four former Republicans to speak at length during the DNC, other parts of the event’s programming, such as the variety of interviews with “ordinary” 2016 Trump voters who have expressed support for Biden, were similarly focused on appealing to voters who are likely outside the Democratic Party’s base. Kasich’s speaking slot could’ve been a calculated gamble, as he is a well-known politician who hails from a swing state, though a recent CBS News poll stated that a majority of registered voters were unenthused to hear from the former Republican during the event. Only data from the November election will determine if the focus on conservative outreach is successful, though 2016 voting data revealed that Republicans voted for Trump by overwhelming margins, despite his myriad controversial statements and policy proposals.

Regardless, there were more former Republicans who spoke during the DNC on Monday than there were progressive Democrats; Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (D-VT) eight-minute speech on Monday was primarily an appeal to his base to vote for Biden to prevent a second term for Trump, while New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is slated to speak for one minute on Tuesday. Latinx speakers — Biden did not perform well with Latinx Democrats in the primary — were also outnumbered by Republicans on Monday.

The 2020 DNC looked entirely unlike the conventions of years past, but Monday’s programming bore a striking resemblance to the 2016 DNC — former First Lady Michelle Obama even re-upped her “When they go low, we go high” bit from the 2016 DNC while giving the event’s keynote speech — which was primarily focused on differentiating then-nominee Hillary Clinton from Trump. The 2016 DNC also featured a handful of former Republican speakers, such as George W. Bush administration alums John Stubbs and Ricardo Reyes, as well as Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire and former Republican mayor of New York. Bloomberg also ran a Democratic presidential campaign in 2020 and is scheduled to speak during the DNC on Thursday.

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