The Democratic National Convention on Tuesday showcased the evolution of the party from old school former President Bill Clinton to up-and-coming stars such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Stacey Abrams, underscoring Joseph R. Biden’s claims to be a transitional figure in the 2020 presidential race.
Despite clear differences entering the virtual convention, the gray-haired leaders of yesteryear and members of the party’s political vanguard made it clear that the one thing they agree on is that they can’t stomach the idea of another four years of President Trump.
“Donald Trump says we’re leading the world,” Mr. Clinton said, according to speech excerpts. “Well, we are the only major industrial economy to have its unemployment rate triple.
“At a time like this, the Oval Office should be a command center. Instead, it’s a storm center,” he said. “There’s only chaos. Just one thing never changes — his determination to deny responsibility and shift the blame. The buck never stops there.”
The 73-year-old introduced himself to a national audience in 1980 as the boyish-faced governor of Arkansas. He warned the thousands of party faithful in attendance back then that the “symbols and accomplishments of the Democratic Party of the past” will not carry the party to victory.
Forty years later, Mr. Clinton embodied the old guard, joining the likes of former President Jimmy Carter, 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer in urging voters to rally behind Mr. Biden.
One of the most forceful repudiations of Mr. Trump came from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired by Mr. Trump for refusing to enforce a travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries.
“Public servants promise to defend our Constitution. Uphold our laws. And work on behalf of the American people,” Ms. Yates said. “But from the moment President Trump took office, he has used his position to benefit himself rather than our country. He’s trampled the rule of law, trying to weaponize our Justice Department to attack his enemies and protect his friends.”
Jill Biden, meanwhile, offered insight into how her husband, Mr. Biden, overcame family tragedies spanning from the deaths of his first wife and a daughter in a 1972 car crash to the loss of his son Beau to brain cancer in 2015.
“There are times when I couldn’t imagine how he did it — how he put one foot in front of the other and kept going,” Mrs. Biden said. “But I’ve always understood why he did it. … He does it for you.”
Mr. Schumer said control of the Senate is also on the line in November.
“If we’re going to win this battle for the soul of our nation, Joe can’t do it alone,” he said.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Ms. Abrams, meanwhile, highlighted the party’s generational change.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who has shot up the ranks as a far-left star since winning election in 2018, delivered a nominating speech for progressive Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, the runner-up to Mr. Biden in the Democratic primary contest.
Mr. Sanders vouched for Mr. Biden in a Monday speech.
Some liberal activists questioned why Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, one of the faces of the “Resistance” to Mr. Trump, got less speaking time than other speakers in the program.
A coalition of 225 delegates had called on the DNC to make Ms. Ocasio-Cortez the keynote speaker or, at the very least, get as much speaking time as former Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who also appeared during Monday’s proceedings.
But instead of a traditional “keynote” speaker, Democrats instead assembled a coalition of 17 up-and-coming leaders to deliver a collective keynote address.
The speakers included Ms. Abrams, the voting rights activist and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Georgia, as well as Democratic Reps. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania and Colin Allred of Texas, both millennials who represent reddish districts in the House.
Part of a video spliced comments from the various speakers to paint a picture of a country facing monumental economic and health crises as a result of Mr. Trump’s failures.
Georgia State Rep. Sam Park said that “teachers in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and across the country are being asked to return to the classroom without a plan to keep them safe, and parents are exhausted juggling full-time work and full-time child care.”
The DNC’s keynote address has been awarded in the past to Democratic up-and-comers, some of whom ended up running for president themselves or evolving into party luminaries.
Former President Barack Obama delivered his famous “Red state, Blue state” speech in 2004 when he was an Illinois state senator running for U.S. Senate.
The late Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York, delivered one of the most famous DNC keynotes in 1984 but never took the plunge to run for president.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia had been eyeing a potential presidential run ahead of his 2008 keynote address.
At the time, Mr. Warner was mounting his first run at the U.S. Senate after leaving the Virginia governor’s office in 2006.
Julián Castro was the mayor of San Antonio when he gave his 2012 DNC keynote address. Mr. Castro later joined the Obama administration and ran for president in 2020.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts delivered the DNC keynote speech in 2016 ahead of her 2020 presidential run.
The party did take care of some business on Tuesday by formally announcing the party platform and voting for Mr. Biden to be the party’s presidential nominee — a nomination Mr. Biden will accept on Thursday.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who Mr. Biden tapped as his running mate last week, will deliver her nomination acceptance speech on Wednesday.
One by one, representatives from 57 U.S. states and territories cast their nominating votes via video, subbing in for the usual convention floor nomination process.
The speakers ranged from elected officials, such as Reps. Barbara Lee of California and Terri Sewell of Alabama, to “everyday” Americans such as Arizona middle school teacher Marisol Garcia and Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in February 2018.
Several of Mr. Biden’s former 2020 rivals participated, including Mr. Sanders, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.
During the roll call vote in 2016, Mr. Sanders moved that Hillary Clinton be nominated by acclamation in an attempt at party unity.
The virtual format of this year’s convention all but assured Democrats that they would avoid a repeat of 2016 when angry Sanders fans staged a walkout in protest.