Through the first two nights of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), policy has taken a backseat to the character of the two presidential candidates as Democrats frame the election as a choice between an amoral President Trump and a virtuous Joe Biden.
Yet Republicans charge that Democrats, amid the heavy focus on character issues, are in effect downplaying the far-left stances adopted by their platform and nominee.
A Fox News analysis of the transcripts from Monday and Tuesday night’s DNC broadcasts shows that speakers referenced Biden’s character (overwhelmingly favorably) 294 times and Trump’s character (overwhelmingly unfavorably) 96 times. Meanwhile, convention speakers referenced Biden’s policies 120 times and Trump’s 56 times.
The numbers underscore the clear effort by the DNC program to contrast Biden’s character with that of Trump, framing the election, as Biden has said many times, as “a battle for the soul of America.” The effort also comes after Republicans succeeded in 2016 as painting then-candidate Hillary Clinton in an extremely unfavorable light, which many pundits partially credit with driving Trump’s eventual victory.
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For this analysis, Fox News counted every time Biden or Trump were referenced by name, title, a non-possessive pronoun or another clear reference to one of the candidates. References to either candidate that were unclear whether they had to do with policy or character, or clearly had to do with neither, were disregarded. For example, when the Nevada delegation leader said the state was casting “25 votes for our next president, Joe Biden,” that was counted as neither a character nor policy reference.
The moral indictments of Trump during the first two nights of the convention were searing. He was accused of dividing the nation, leveraging his office for his personal benefit and exacerbating the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are deeply lacking leadership and somebody who cares. Trump has made it perfectly clear how he feels, and we need a president who cares, that’s Joe Biden,” said one speaker, a union nurse.
“Donald Trump may not have caused the coronavirus, but his dishonesty and his irresponsible actions made it so much worse,” another speaker, whose father died of the coronavirus, said. “One of the last things that my father said to me was that he felt betrayed by the likes of Donald Trump.”
The Democrats juxtaposed that image of Trump with a portrayal of Biden as a man of impeccable character who understands everyday Americans.
“I know Joe. He is a profoundly decent man guided by faith,” former first lady Michelle Obama said.
She added: “Joe knows what it’s like to struggle, which is why he gives his personal phone number to kids overcoming a stutter of their own. His life is a testament to getting back up, and he is going to channel that same grit and passion to pick us all up, to help us heal and guide us forward.”
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Meanwhile, Republicans accused Democrats of avoiding discussion of Biden’s policies or those of the DNC, for fear that they may be too radical for mainstream Americans.
“Brutal conclusion from Politico this morning on ‘ideologically incoherent’ #DemConvention hiding from their actual radical agenda,” Trump campaign Rapid Response Director Andrew Clark tweeted Wednesday morning, quoting the “Politico Playbook” morning newsletter. “It also gave a false sense of who will matter if Biden is president. If he wins next year, we will be hearing a lot more from AOC than from [former Sen. Chuck] Hagel.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, from her personal Twitter account, also pointed out the relative lack of policy talk at the DNC.
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“During this underwhelming DNC, there’s been a whole lot of singing but ZERO explaining of how Joe will…Create jobs… End riots… Stop innocent loss of life in our streets,” she said. “Joe will DESTROY our economy, DEFUND our police, SURRENDER our communities to the anarchists!”
Trump’s campaign also pointed out the conclusion by a New York Times editorial board member that Biden’s platform is significantly to the left of what many perceive it as.
“Biden’s platform is far more liberal than Barack Obama’s was years ago,” Mara Gay said on MSNBC. “So when we looked at that as an editorial board, we were kind of blown away at how much more similar it was to Bernie Sanders’ platform in some ways to Barack Obama in 2008.”
The policies espoused by Biden and the DNC in its official platform are highly progressive. Among the planks on the platform are the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, universal preschool, D.C., statehood and a $15 per hour minimum wage.
Policy, of course, has not been completely ignored at the DNC. Racial inequality, for example, was discussed at length, including by Biden himself, on Monday night. And Biden’s promise to defend the Affordable Care Act was a major topic on Tuesday night. But Biden’s character was deeply woven into even that discussion, with references to compassion and the empathy he developed for those facing major health problems due to his personal experiences, like the loss of his son Beau to cancer and the car accident that killed his first wife and daughter, while also injuring his sons.
But compared to the larger DNC narrative that Biden is a moral person and Trump is not, policy was the less pressing issue. That was no more clear than when two people who made clear they have significant policy disagreements with Biden went to bat for him on Monday night — former Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich and self-declared democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
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“Yes, there are areas where Joe and I absolutely disagree, but that’s okay because that’s America. Because whatever our differences, we respect one another as human beings, each of us searching for justice and for purpose,” Kasich said. “I know that Joe Biden with his experience and his wisdom and his decency can bring us together to help us find that better way.”
Said Sanders, whose “Medicare-for-all” plan was not adopted in the DNC platform: “While Joe and I disagree on the best path to get universal coverage, he has a plan that will greatly expand health care and cut the cost of prescription drugs. Further, he will lower the eligibility age of Medicare from 65 down to 60.”
On character, Sanders said that “Nero fiddled while Rome burned, Trump golfs,” and “Joe Biden will end the hate and division Trump has created.”