PHILADELPHIA ― If Monday at the Democratic National Convention was about assuaging supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Wednesday night was an all-out assault on Donald Trump’s character and readiness to assume the highest office in the land. And it was aimed as much at the television audience of persuadable moderate Republicans as it was at those in the building.
Tim Kaine delivered a blistering critique of Donald Trump in a speech Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention, delighting the crowd and defying the low expectations set by the Hillary Clinton campaign all week.
Kaine was joined in the assault by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who challenged Trump’s assertion that he’s been a successful business man. President Barack Obama raised the specter of “tyranny” and “homegrown demagogues” in an equally brutal takedown. Vice President Joe Biden warned about Trump’s character and judgment, while a retired rear admiral, John Hutson, slammed Trump for his borderline treasonous flirtation with Russian “dictator” Vladimir Putin.
Kaine came at Trump with a hand-in-the-pocket, confident and sturdy denunciation, warning that victim after victim who has trusted Trump in the past has wound up hurt. Speaking to a primetime national audience for the first time since Clinton picked him as her running mate, the Virginia senator presented himself to American voters as a faith- and family-inspired public servant with strong civil rights credibility.
Kaine drew the strongest responses from the audience when he mocked Trump’s ubiquitous assurance, “Believe me.”
“The guy promises a lot,” Kaine began. “But you might have noticed, he has a habit of saying the same two words right after he makes his biggest promises.”
“You guys know the words I mean? ‘Believe me,’” Kaine said, imitating Trump’s deep voice every time he said the two-word phrase in question.
Kaine then recited a litany of Trump’s most questionable promises ― building a wall on the border with Mexico and making them pay for it; destroying ISIS; and assuring the public there’s nothing fishy in his tax returns ― following each one with the mocking refrain, “Believe me.”
By the time Kaine reached Trump’s tax returns, his speech had turned into a call and response with the crowd.
“Do you believe Trump is paying his fair share of taxes?” Kaine said, letting the question hang in the air. “No!” the crowd roared back.
“Do you believe he ought to release those tax returns like every other presidential candidate in modern history?” Kaine continued. “Yes!” the audience cheered back.
“Folks, you cannot believe one word that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth!” Kaine concluded.
“Not one word!” the crowd in the Wells Fargo Center chanted several times.
Kaine’s folksy refrain mocking Trump as untrustworthy was just one component of a coordinated offensive by the night’s speakers. Prior to Kaine’s speech, Biden dismissed Trump’s concern for the middle class as “a bunch of malarkey.” Bloomberg derided Trump as a “con” with a disgraceful business record. And former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta painted a frightening picture of Trump as a man “beyond the pale,” lacking the judgment to defend the country’s security interests.
Prior to launching into his tirade against Trump, Kaine made the case for Hillary Clinton, someone he characterized as a seasoned leader who has “battled to put kids and families first since she was a teenager.”
“Hillary’s passion is kids and families,” he said. “Donald Trump has a passion too: It’s himself.”
As a measure of his confidence in Clinton’s judgment as commander in chief, Kaine invoked the fate of his own son, Nat, who recently deployed with the United States Marines.
“I trust Hillary Clinton with our son’s life,” Kaine said.
Kaine began the speech by sharing the details of his life before politics, including volunteering as a missionary with Jesuits in Honduras and working as a civil rights attorney for 17 years.
He argued that his service in the Senate, as Virginia governor and as Richmond mayor were a natural progression of his Midwestern Catholic upbringing.
Kaine demonstrated his talent for something that has already become apparent on the campaign trail: He will serve as an adept, Spanish-speaking surrogate for Hillary Clinton and a fierce but smiling attack dog against Trump.
He drew loud applause when he showed off the fluent Spanish he honed during his time in Honduras.
“I learned the values of the people ― faith, family and work. The same values of the Latino community here in our country,” Kaine said in Spanish, repeating a line he has already tested out on the stump. “We are all Americans.”
Democrats have emphasized their commitment to reducing gun violence throughout the convention, a major change in their political posture from previous elections. In keeping with this theme, Kaine touted his own bona fides in the fight for greater gun safety.
As governor of Virginia during the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007, Kaine recalled, he closed a gun loophole that allowed the shooter to purchase a gun despite a history of court-ordered mental health treatment.
“We shed tears in the days after a horrible mass shooting at Virginia Tech, but we rolled up our sleeves and fixed a loophole in our background check system to make us safer,” he said.
Kaine’s emphasis on his work as a civil rights lawyer and advocate for safer gun laws was clearly aimed to assuage remaining progressive concerns about Kaine’s vice presidential candidacy.
Kaine was one of a handful of Senate Democrats who voted to give the president authority to fast-track trade agreements. He now says he opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, an accord despised by labor unions and progressive activists.
He has also drawn liberal criticism for his personal opposition to abortion. (Reproductive rights groups have nonetheless largely praised his voting record in the Senate.)
In addition, Kaine offered praise for Sanders, an apparent gesture of respect for the party’s progressive wing,
“I work on the Budget Committee with Bernie Sanders, a great leader, fighting for investments in education, health care, research and transportation,” Kaine said.
As the crowd erupted in chants of “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie,” Kaine improvised an appeal to vote for Clinton in order to stop Trump at all costs.
“We all should feel the Bern and we all should not want to get burned by the other guy!”