Biden just made it a lot harder for Republicans to tag him ‘Slow Joe’

WILMINGTON, Del. — In a campaign riddled with verbal gaffes and setbacks, where his cognitive abilities were questioned and his debate performances criticized, Joe Biden stepped up to the lectern and delivered the biggest speech of his life without a hitch.

That in and of itself was no small feat for Biden, known for veering off script or tripping on his words in a way that party Democrats worried could play into the caricature put forward by Donald Trump and Republicans.

But the Democratic nominee appeared at ease as he struck somber notes about the coronavirus pandemic, at once grieving with those who lost loved ones and promising he would take decisive action if elected in November.

“Look, I understand. I understand how hard it is to have any hope right now. On this summer night let me take a moment to speak to those of you who have lost the most. I have some idea how it feels to lose someone you love,” Biden said. “I know that deep black hole that opens up in the middle of your chest and you feel like you're being sucked into it. I know how mean, cruel, and unfair life can be sometimes.”

His remarks featured a greatest hits of lines he has used again and again on the campaign trail. From learning how to handle loss, to his first reaction to Trump’s remarks about white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, to the lessons his father taught him, the messages and even precise phrases were familiar to Biden, likely aiding his smooth delivery.

Biden also wove in a long list of reasonable-sounding policy prescriptions, but he elevated the importance of character, decency and compassion. By turns, he delivered less a celebratory convention speech than a premature inauguration or State of the Union address.

As the former vice president looked to cameras, he stood before a dark room, where reporters, wearing face masks, sat in chairs set up six feet apart from one another. Biden had been waiting more than a half-century to give this speech. It came on the last day of a virtual convention where speakers and videos humanized the 77-year-old career politician as a wellspring of empathy — a decent family man — and someone who would restore a sense of normalcy in America and order in the world.

By addressing the somber mood of the nation and reaching out to those who suffered loss from the pandemic, Biden sought to distinguish his style of leadership from Trump, who’s long been criticized for failing to memorialize those who died from the virus.

“Here and now I give you my word,” Biden said. “If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I'll be an ally of the light, not the darkness.”

Biden devoted plenty of time to hitting Trump. But his aides, suspicious of news headlines that reflectively focus on the president, stressed that criticizing Trump wasn’t the main point of the speech. Biden lingered for long stretches on optimism and urged Americans to push past partisanship.

Biden's commanding delivery could make it more difficult for Trump to paint him as staggering and senile (“Slow Joe”) at the Republican convention next week. At the same time, Biden’s focus on middle-of-the-road policies complicates Trump’s attempts to tag his ticket as pawns of the radical left.

While Biden put Trump’s caricatures to rest, at least until the debates, he also validated the gut feelings of Democratic primary voters who elected him over younger, flashier, or more progressive options. He’d pitched himself as the “safe,” conventional choice, but his appearances sometimes still feel like watching a veteran tightrope-walker trying to stay balanced.

After his remarks concluded, it was Biden who seemed relieved.

Democrats swapped in fireworks for the traditional balloon drop to mark the close of events. In the most celebratory moment of the night, Biden stood on a stage outside, American flags in the backdrop. His wife Jill stood beside him along with his newly-minted running mate, Kamala Harris, and her husband, Doug Emhoff. On a warm summer night, they looked up at the explosion of colors in the sky, as a rowdy crowd at the drive-in convention site cheered.

It was a moment of exuberance and Biden appeared playful.

When a reporter called out to ask how he was feeling, Biden briefly pulled down his face mask and shouted: “Welcome to Wilmington!”