Michelle Obama DNC Speech: Donald Trump Is In Over His Head : The NPR Politics Podcast Those were the dual messages of the first night of the Democratic convention from former Republican governor of Ohio John Kasich and progressive firebrand Sen. Bernie Sanders.

There was a heavy focus on the pandemic, including a powerful speech from Kristin Urquiza, the daughter of a Trump supporter who died after contracting the virus.

And, Michelle Obama wants people to make a plan about how they'll cast a ballot.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, campaign correspondent Asma Khalid, and senior political editor and correspondent Ron Elving.

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Not Too Far Left, But Left Enough: Kasich and Sanders Speak On DNC Night One

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Not Too Far Left, But Left Enough: Kasich and Sanders Speak On DNC Night One

Not Too Far Left, But Left Enough: Kasich and Sanders Speak On DNC Night One

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/903401580/903419732" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: I'm Asma Khalid. I'm covering the presidential campaign.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: And I'm Ron Elving, editor correspondent.

KEITH: The time now is 11:37 p.m. on Monday, August 17. This was the first night of the Democratic Convention. It has come and gone. Asma, you are there at the convention - oh, wait, sort of. You're in close proximity to where Joe Biden is.

KHALID: Yeah, I'm in Delaware, right? But there is no real physical convention that we're thinking of as normally takes place. I mean, this was largely a made-for-TV event. It was virtual. And, you know, I'm sure we'll talk more about this throughout the podcast, but it just - it was a really sort of, I think, strange convention, I think, to watch. I mean, Ron, you've covered loads of these, so I'm sure you have that better historical background of what a convention ought to sound and feel like.

ELVING: I can't add this to my list of conventions that I've covered because there no convention to cover. This is a convention where people do not convene. What we saw was, especially for the first, say, 90 minutes, essentially, like, a 30-second television spot for a political party or a political candidate stretched to an hour and beyond. Now, we did get to some powerful moments, and we'll talk about those. And there were speeches by Bernie Sanders and then ultimately by Michelle Obama that are memorable speeches. We'll talk about them probably, in Michelle Obama's case, for years. But the first moment that really punched through the format was a young woman named Kristin talking about her father.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KRISTIN URQUIZA: So in late May, after the stay-at-home order was lifted in Arizona, my dad went to a karaoke bar with his friends. A few weeks later, he was put on a ventilator. And after five agonizing days, he died alone in the ICU with a nurse holding his hand. My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life.

KEITH: Yeah, she said that her dad had voted for President Trump.

KHALID: Yeah, and I think, you know, as much as we're talking about how unusual this convention is because it's not really - it is a very unconventional convention. But I think that these are moments, like what we heard from Kristin, which are going to be shared. I mean, already, you saw this on social media going around. These are the moments that Democrats were hoping would come out of this convention, which are shareable, viral moments. And to me, there is a sense that you can get these moments and that they're very clear when you don't have a live audience. You know, how many of these moments there'll be I don't know. We'll have to see as the days go on.

KEITH: One other moment that stood out was when George Floyd's brothers spoke. You know, it was a very short part of this night, but it pierced through.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHILONISE FLOYD: My brother George was selfless. He always made sacrifices for his family, friends and even complete strangers. George had a giving spirit, a spirit that has shown up on streets around our nation and around the world - people of all races, all ages, all genders, all backgrounds peacefully protesting in the name of love and unity.

KEITH: The main attraction of the night - the big speech, the longest speech, the one that closed out the evening - came from former First Lady Michelle Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHELLE OBAMA: If you think things cannot possibly get worse, trust me, they can, and they will if we don't make a change in this election. If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.

KEITH: She can give a speech even alone, even without a crowd. And she seemed to have sort of two messages, which I think are the messages of this night. One was about voting, and the other was about Donald Trump and why he shouldn't be reelected.

ELVING: And in a sense, both of those points were about character. Certainly, she was attacking Donald Trump's character in terms that are highly unusual, really, at this level of politics. And she was also talking about testing voters' character in terms of what they were willing to sacrifice and invest in making sure that they got their vote done this fall, this time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.

KEITH: And it is what it is is a line President Trump said about the number of people who have died from coronavirus.

KHALID: And, you know, Tam, this was not purely just criticism directed at the president for kicks. I mean, this was her focusing on the fact that people need to get out and vote. There was a line where she acknowledged that she's not somebody who really likes politics herself but that it is urgently important for people to vote regardless of where they were, you know, four years ago. And, you know, we've heard a lot from Democrats about the need to register for vote-by-mail, and she acknowledged that that's an important thing to do, but she also said something else.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: We've got to vote early, in person if we can. We've got to request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately and follow up to make sure they're received and then make sure our friends and families do the same. We have got to grab our comfortable shoes, put on our masks, pack a brown bag dinner and maybe breakfast, too, because we've got to be willing to stand in line all night if we have to.

KEITH: You know, that is a somewhat different message. That is a put-on-a-mask, go-stand-in-a-long-line message, which is a little different from vote early. Vote by mail. Everyone should vote by mail.

KHALID: You know, Tam, this is a different note than what we traditionally have been hearing from Democrats. But look. In the last week I actually had a conversation with a Democrat who made this point to me that she does think that, perhaps, they're going to have to start, you know, shifting their message around voting because of some of the concerns with what's been going on with the postal system. So it was striking to me to hear Michelle Obama talk to folks about, you know, putting on their masks and potentially waiting in line all night long if needed.

KEITH: One other major theme of the night was unity. And when we get back from this quick break, we will hear what Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had to say at the convention.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KEITH: And we're back. And there was a speech from Bernie Sanders, and there was a speech from John Kasich, who is a Republican who ran for president in the last cycle and was the governor from Ohio. So the convention producers put out this sort of - look at this. Look at all of these people who support Joe Biden for vastly different reasons.

KHALID: I mean, look. The Democrats were trying to present this idea that you don't need to necessarily be aligned on policy. Right now, they want to make sure that voters are aligned behind one singular mission and that is ensuring that Donald Trump is a one-term president. And so, you know, we heard from John Kasich, former governor of Ohio, talk about the fact that he is aware that some Republicans might be a little concerned about going for Joe Biden. And he was trying to alleviate some of those concerns. And I thought what was so, you know, notable is that he seemed to be trying to address the specific criticism that we've heard from the Trump campaign and supporters of the president about who Joe Biden is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN KASICH: I'm sure there are Republicans and independents who couldn't imagine crossing over to support a Democrat. They fear Joe may turn sharp left and leave them behind. I don't believe that because I know the measure of the man is reasonable, faithful, respectful. And, you know, no one pushes Joe around.

ELVING: Bernie Sanders was there to assure you that Biden will veer far enough left to be worthy of the votes of Bernie Sanders supporters. So not too far left, but Bernie Sanders is there to tell you he'll veer far enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: Joe supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. This will give 40 million workers a pay raise and push the wage scale up for everyone else. Joe will also make it easier for workers to join unions, create 12 weeks of paid family leave, fund universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-old and make child care affordable for millions of families.

KHALID: It's like they're all giving testimonials. But if you, you know, realize that you have this juxtaposition of what John Kasich is saying next to Bernie Sanders, it's like they're both saying, essentially, that, look. You can trust Joe Biden. He's left enough. While the other guy says, you can trust Joe Biden. He's not too far left.

KEITH: And they also had these, like, people talking to their smartphones about how they voted for Trump, but now they're going to vote for Biden. You know, it was, like, not super subtle what the message was.

ELVING: You know, there was a lot of contrast between to tonight's message and 2016. But if you go back to 2008, you had Joe Biden on the ticket with Barack Obama. And that was, in many respects, at this point the greatest hit of the Democrats in the last 20 years. And at that point, they were all about groundbreaking. Look at this ticket - the first African American president. This is really something. It's groundbreaking. And this time around, with Biden and Kamala Harris, they're not talking about groundbreaking quite so much. They're talking more about what might be called a rescue mission. They're trying to bring America back from Donald Trump. And that's what the Kasich contribution is. That's what the Bernie contribution is. Whatever their disagreements, they really want to focus on getting the country back from Donald Trump.

KHALID: I mean, and on that note, look. There are certainly progressive activists who were not thrilled with the tone of tonight so far. And I saw some of that messaging. I mean, there are people who feel like there wasn't enough attention paid to some people who have been particularly hurt by some of President Trump's policies, whether that's, you know, immigrants, Muslims, Latinos - I mean, there are a whole group of people that you saw on social media who were not really thrilled at all with the attention being given to, say, particularly Republicans supporting Joe Biden.

And, look. It's the first night. So I don't know what we're going to fully see in some of the subsequent evenings. But to me, it was striking that there wasn't loads of attention put on specifically communities that have been affected by President Trump. There was, you know, I think, criticism around the pandemic and how he's handled that. But it was much more around governing and specifically the pandemic response.

KEITH: All right. Let's just talk quickly before we go about the format because it was different. At the end of both the Sanders speech and the Michelle Obama speech, there was applause.

(APPLAUSE)

KEITH: But it was people at home on Zoom, basically, applauding from their living rooms. It was sort of like, if anybody's watching the NBA, where there's just, like, all these weird people clapping randomly. That's sort of what it was. And it was a little bit delayed. And then they were like, oh, wait. I'm clapping on screen. Like...

ELVING: It's not going to replace the real thing. Great photography - some of the photographs were breathtaking. A lot of uplifting music, maybe not enough Bruce Springsteen for Bruce fans, too much for the rest of the listening world. But you know what I'm saying.

KEITH: There was a lot of Bruce. There was a lot of Bruce.

ELVING: You know what I'm saying. There was a lot of the rising. But look. For people who come back every four years to see a Democratic convention, they were trying to reassure these people - those people - that this is their party. This is their convention. They should be watching. And even though it's not very exciting not having a big stage and a big crowd, it is, in some sense or another, almost like going to church. If you're a really, really good Democrat, you're supposed to show up for this ritual every four years.

KEITH: That's a wrap for tonight. Many of us from the NPR Politics team will be covering the convention live with context and insights on your local public radio stations. And you can also follow along by visiting npr.org or by asking your smart speaker to play NPR or your local station by name. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

KHALID: I'm Asma Khalid. I'm covering the presidential campaign.

ELVING: And I'm Ron Elving, editor correspondent.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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