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[00:00:03]

Hey there, it's the NPR Politics podcast. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House. I'm Scott Detro. Cover the presidential campaign.

[00:00:10]

I must Macala. They also cover the presidential campaign. And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

[00:00:16]

The time now is 12 06 a.m. on Friday, August 21st, 2020, or very, very, very late on Thursday night. And the Democratic National Convention has come to a close. This was a night all about Joe Biden, who accepted his party's nomination for president and spoke about the choice Americans will face in November.

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This is our moment to make hope and history rhyme with passion and purpose. Let us begin, you and I together One Nation under God, unite our love for America, united in our love for each other. For love is more powerful than hate. Hope is more powerful than fear, and light is more powerful and dark. This is our moment. This is our mission. History be able to say that the end of this chapter of American doctors began here tonight.

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As love and hope and light, join in the battle for the soul of the nation. And this is a battle we will win and we'll do it together. I promise you, this was very much a speech that had the feel of an Oval Office address rather than a rousing rally, and he was speaking in a darkened room, this this was a direct to camera, direct to the nation, very somber address.

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And that that light and dark theme just really encapsulates what you've been hearing all week from Democratic speakers, most notably former President Obama last night, that this is a stark choice. This is an existential choice that Americans are going to make this fall.

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It's time for us, for we, the people to come together. And make no mistake, United, we can and will overcome this season of darkness in America.

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You know, it's interesting to say that it sounded like an Oval Office address. It was very presidential. And it wasn't like a speech given in a big hall that was missing the audience. It was like an Oval Office address. I thought Joe Biden really rose to the occasion. I've seen Biden give a lot of speeches where he either is mumbling or shouting and he's under modulated or overmodulated. But this one was delivered really well. And I think he he more than surpassed expectations.

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And, of course, Donald Trump had conveniently lowered the expectations for Biden so much by saying that he was missing a step and senile and Joe Biden really surpassed that. So I think he did what he needed to do.

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And, you know, I don't think it was as dark as the other speeches this week. The other speeches were very dystopian. This one was urgent and panned and described a kind of a national emergency. But it was also optimistic.

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I thought it was extraordinarily aspirational. I mean, there's a point where he talked about, you know, we as Americans are good and decent people. And he kind of raised his arms up as if he was kind of pleading for that to be the case. And to me, it struck actually quite a different tone than some of the other speakers we've heard all throughout this week.

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And good and decent were the exact words that were used to describe him all week.

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And Asma, you were actually there in that empty room. What what was it like there tonight?

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Well, it's so interesting to hear Mara describe this as a scene that didn't appear to be at least on camera one in which there was just sort of an empty, empty room and no audience because in the room that is actually precisely what it was. There were probably about two dozen reporters and a simple tech crew. And we were essentially the only, quote unquote, audience there to hear this speech in person. And it looked really different. I can't remember if it was our producer.

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Barton, I think, sent over a screenshot of what this looked like on camera. And I was kind of floored because, you know, we in the room were sitting there in darkness. It just it gave the feeling of kind of emptiness and an almost eeriness, I thought, because it was so silent. Yeah. And then when you saw what it looks like on camera, I think it did come across far more presidential than what it appeared to be in the room.

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And there's only really a couple of dozen of us who probably had that take. I think a far, vast, vast majority of people were getting that glimpse of what it looked like in terms of appearing to be more akin to an Oval Office address.

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So Biden did kind of make that aspirational pitch. He he talked a lot about himself. But I think another moment that jumped out to me was kind of the crystallization of the critique of President Trump that we've been hearing all week for all of the scandals and for the impeachment and for everything else that all just kind of totally drowned out. And Biden and other Democrats talked directly about the pandemic and made the case that that the president has has done nothing to slow it.

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The tragedy of where we are today is it didn't have to be this bad. Just look around. It's not this bad in Canada or Europe or Japan or almost anywhere else in the world. And the president keeps telling us the virus is going to disappear. He keeps waiting for a miracle. Well, I have news for him, no miracle is coming, and I think that's the entire election as far as the Biden campaign sees it, it's a simple argument and it touches everyone's lives right now.

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There's a risk in that you can't hang this whole election on the pandemic. I thought he gave a nod to the kinds of things he wanted to do to build back better to reverse the tax cuts on the wealthy, to invest in infrastructure and green jobs, et cetera.

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But I think that's so interesting to hear you say that you think it's a risk, because I think in reporting I've done, you know, in Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, the pandemic is singularly the most important issue to people.

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And regardless of whether not they're saying I'm a risk to only to only focus it on the pandemic, you have to have the pandemic plus other things. You have to have a plan for racial justice and climate change.

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Do you do you really know, Mara, right now? Because that is exactly what everybody's focusing on. I mean, I don't hear people I hear them occasionally talk about racial justice.

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There is no doubt the pandemic is the number one, two and three issue right now. And it is overwhelming everything else. But I'm just telling you that, yeah, when you talk to Republicans, what they say is if the if there's a vaccine, if the numbers of infection start going down, if the economy starts coming back, that is a way that you can have a slightly different conversation in the fall. And you have and Biden has to have an answer that's about more than just the pandemic, which I actually think he does.

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You know, I thought it was notable that he talked a fair bit about policy. You know, he didn't get bogged down in it. It wasn't like a long laundry list or anything.

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But, you know, he he talked about defending Social Security and brought up President Trump's payroll tax holiday that he wants. He he talked about climate change. He he was very specific about the types of testing that he wanted to be widely available for coronavirus.

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You know, they're in among these larger themes, there was there was a conversation about how he would like to govern. And part of what he talked about in terms of governing was being able to unite the country. You know, this is a message that he talked about a lot in his primaries, but it feels like it has a little bit of a different tone or a sense of different urgency. Maybe now is we're heading towards a general.

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I believe there's only one way forward as United America, a united America, united in our pursuit of a more perfect union, united in our dreams of a better future for us and for our children. United in our determination. To make the coming years bright. Are you ready? Part of me says USMA that that is that could be part of the aspirational, optimistic speech that you were talking about earlier, because this is such an incredibly partisan moment.

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And I think that's one of the ways, you know, there's the I would like to end this pandemic. There's the I would like to return a lot of things to normal. There's and there's the idea that I want to be a president for all Americans. I think like this broad way that Joe Biden is defining his campaign is the reason that he can have a Bernie Sanders and John Kasich speak in very short order, how he can try to make an appeal to Sanders type voters on policy, but also try to pick off disaffected Republicans saying, you know, I want to end all of the disruption and the and the chaos and the and the controversy, the controversy and kind of be a very normal president.

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Again, I think that's something that that lots of people in lots of different parts of the spectrum are open to hearing at the moment.

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All right. Well, we are going to take a quick break. And when we get back, our final thoughts on this week of the convention support for this podcast and the following message come from Google.

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Explore Google's free tools for small businesses at Google Dotcom Slash Small Business Its Presidential campaign season.

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Donald Trump is doubling down on appealing to just his base. And Joe Biden, he's trying to build a big, broad coalition of anyone who might give him a vote. I talked with two political reporters to see what strategy might work. Listen and subscribe to it's been a minute from NPR and we're back.

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And Asma, I don't know if anyone else noticed this, but there are sounds behind you. You are clearly not home right now.

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Yeah, that's right. Right. Which is kind of an unusual feeling in covering this campaign. Right. It's an unusual sound.

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Came outside and he was joined by his wife, Jill, his running mate, Kamala Harris, and her husband. And they watched fireworks together. But the bigger scene, to be honest, was that in this parking lot and there were just dozens and dozens of cars in the parking lot and we were told that these are members of the Delaware State Democratic Party. They were cheering, waving American flags. There was music playing. And I will say after months of just not being at any campaign rallies and not really seeing large crowds, even though people were in their cars, it felt like the first true campaign thing I had seen in quite a while.

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You know, with all of this focus on the virtual convention and and social distancing, they actually found a way to sort of surprise us with this like drive and rally movie experience thing with fireworks like it was that was not virtual. It was real. Yeah, it was not virtual. It was it was tactile. Yeah. It was not virtual. It was real. It was pretty cool.

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You know, I thought all week that maybe people like us were not going to be the best judges of whether this is effective because we're used to being in the room. And this is primarily a TV show.

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But I mean, I think if you look at the big speeches that we spent the most time talking about each podcast night and string them all together, there are clear themes here. There are clear big picture messages that they are trying to hit voters over the head with. Sure.

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Like any convention, there's a lot of this convention that was like every other convention. In other words, they had a message. They showcased they're important people. Bernie Sanders showed they were unified. Michelle Obama was, you know, the best salesman for why you should turn out to vote even if you hate politics. And then they're they humanize their nominee. They told his biography and he rose to the occasion.

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All of those things you want to do in any in any convention and, you know, like every convention also has things that are totally off key and don't work and are awkward.

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And so, you know, it it was a convention, except that this was so much more controlled without human beings in there to either boo or cry. All of those moments were gone. So it was a lot smoother.

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Ma, did you feel like that made it actually more effective at for the Democrats to deliver their message because you didn't actually have a crowd who could potentially sway that message off what you wanted wanted it to say? Sure.

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Less interesting as a news event, more effective as an infomercial. All convention strive to be a smooth descent, free and firm infomercial. But human beings keep on getting in the way. This time they dispensed with the humans because they had to. I mean, the audience. But but I look, I think it was very effective, I think they did what they needed to do. And here's the other thing. When you get rid of the live human beings in the hall, you can put a lot more ordinary Americans on the screen.

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They got many, many more ordinary Americans into the program than they could have if it was a regular convention.

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And you know what? This makes me wonder a lot how next week will go for the Republicans, because first of all, as we've talked about, they shifted gears so many times, whereas Democrats were planning for something like this for months.

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And secondly, I don't know what the crowd situation is going to be like, Tam. I think we still don't really know what the president's speech. I mean, Joe Biden, we talked about how this was kind of an Oval Office address type feel.

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That's the kind of speech that President Trump has really struggled with. Right. Like he's does with that. President Trump plays off the audience.

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If he is seriously speaking to a camera like that, is that his best format for what he's trying to do?

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I guess we'll find out.

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The Biden people surprised us with the fireworks. I think Trump's people are going to find some ways to surprise us, too. All right. That is it for the Democratic National Convention. Next week, the Republicans will hold their convention and we will be there every night to break down the key moments, just like this week. We will be back later today with our weekly roundup. And then on Sunday, we will have a preview pod. I'm Tamara Keith.

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I cover the White House.

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I'm Scott Tatro. I covered the presidential campaign this week from a hotel room in Wilmington. And I'm Asma Khalid.

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I also cover the presidential campaign, though I am currently in a parking lot in Wilmington, Delaware.

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You broke free from our hotel. Congrats. Yeah. And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent. And thank you for listening to the NPR Politics podcast.