On the third night of the Democratic National Convention, former President Barack Obama stood in Philadelphia, where the Constitution was written, to warn of a democracy under grave threat.
And the party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, appeared from her home in New York, as if to say: Don’t let this happen again.
It was California Sen. Kamala Harris’ night, as she became the first Black and South Asian woman to receive the Democratic vice presidential nomination and in her acceptance speech introduced herself to the nation.
And the party delved deeper into issues — including immigration, climate change and gun violence — with personal testimonials, including one from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in touting Biden’s plan for the “caregiving economy.”
But the theme of the night was the importance of November’s election, with Obama, Clinton and others casting Trump as a failed president willing to cheat to win again unless, as Obama said, “we leave no doubt” about the outcome.
Here are seven takeaways from the DNC’s third night:
‘Do not let them take away your democracy’
Two convention speeches tell the story of Obama’s increasingly unsettled view of the arc of the American political system.
He burst onto the national political scene with a 2004 keynote in which he rejected “the politics of cynicism” and heralded “hope in the face of difficulty; hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope.”
On Wednesday night, Obama returned and made history again — setting aside former presidents’ unwritten rule not to directly attack the current officeholder to warn of a democracy under grave threat.
He unleashed an unprecedented rebuke of Trump, who stepped onto the national political scene advancing the racist birther conspiracy theory aimed at undermining Obama’s presidency and has regularly — including on Twitter Wednesday night as Obama was speaking — told the lie that Obama’s administration spied on his campaign.
“I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care,” Obama said. “But he never did.”
Fighting back tears, Obama remembered Americans who fought racism and oppression. “What we do echoes through the generations,” he said.
Of Trump and Republicans, Obama said: “They know they can’t win you over with their policies so they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote and to convince you that your vote does not matter. That is how they win. That’s how our democracy withers. Until it’s no democracy at all and we cannot let that happen. Do not let them take away your power. Do not let them take away your democracy.”
Clinton serves up a reminder
If the theme of the night was urgency, Clinton speaking from her living room in New York and not as president of the United States, was exhibit A.
Clinton’s remarks were a warning, both to Democrats who may believe Biden’s current polling lead over Trump is insurmountable, and to voters who may be entirely turned off by this moment in politics.
The former secretary of state, recalling people who told her they didn’t vote four years ago, warned against November becoming a “woulda, coulda, shoulda” election and reminded people that Biden and Harris could win the popular vote and lose the election, just like she did.
“Don’t forget: Joe and Kamala can win 3 million more votes and still lose. Take it from me,” Clinton said. “We need numbers so overwhelming Trump can’t sneak or steal his way to victory.”
Harris’ historic moment
Harris leaned into her place in history Wednesday night, and noted that her nomination was “a testament to the dedication of generations before me.”
The California senator ran for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, but much of the nation was introduced to her personal story — the daughter of immigrants, an Indian mother and Jamaican father; a graduate of a historically Black university — for the first time on Wednesday.
She said she wished her mother were alive to see her.
“She taught us to be conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people. To believe public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is a shared responsibility,” Harris said.
VP pick previews Trump attacks
Vice presidential nominees typically serve up lines of attack against their opponents — and while Harris didn’t say much about Trump on Wednesday night, she did preview some sharp lines that are likely to play out in the coming weeks.
Nodding to her time as a prosecutor and California attorney general, Harris said, “I know a predator when I see one.”
“Right now, we have a president who turns our tragedies into political weapons,” she said later, as she contrasted Biden’s character with Trump’s.
And, in perhaps the standout line of the night, she said: “There is no vaccine for racism.”
Years of Democratic women were on display
The list of speakers Wednesday night was full of female Democratic leaders, from Clinton and the first woman to be speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The appearances fell in the same week as the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote through the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
There were also video tributes honoring women, including one that noted that many historic women leaders who build the Democratic Party and another that marked Pelosi’s career.
The messaging made sense on the night that the Democratic Party nominated Harris — who in her own speech nodded to Black activists who paved the way for her: “Women like Mary Church Terrell and Mary Mcleod Bethune. Fannie Lou Hamer and Diane Nash. Constance Baker Motley and Shirley Chisholm.”
But it also highlighted a political reality for the party in November: Women, especially White women in the suburbs of American cities like Philadelphia, Phoenix and Charlotte, will be critical to defeating Trump. Clinton narrowly won a majority of women in 2016, according to exit polls, but she lost white women, a fact that Democrats have been looking to turn around for the last four years — and succeeded in doing so in the 2018 midterms, when a suburban shift handed them control of the House.
Democrats get specific on the issues
Gun violence, climate change, immigration, economic dislocation and child care — Democrats on Wednesday night drilled down on their policy plans, often setting aside criticism of Trump’s personal behavior and focusing on troubles that preceded his election.
Speakers addressed Trump’s role in exacerbating the toxic politics of the era, making those issues more difficult to address, but they also presented a more coherent case for why and how they would address them if Biden wins in November.
Pelosi listed the bills passed or supported by her Democratic majority — to lower drug prices, bolster voting rights, increase police oversight, prevent gun violence, advance LGBTQ rights and more — that have been ignored or blocked by Trump and Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Democrats also put those affected by Trump’s most controversial policies in the spotlight. Among them was a young woman whose mother was deported in 2018 — two years after her father, a Marine Corps veteran, voted for Trump.
“My dad thought you would protect military families so he voted for you in 2016, Mr. President,” 11-year-old Estela Juarez said, reading from a letter she sent Trump. “He says he won’t vote for you again after what you did to our family.”
Warren vouches Biden’s ‘plans’ for the economy
Warren and Biden have clashed over economic policy for years, fights that grabbed headlines during the primary and traced back to when she was a professor and he was in the Senate.
But on Wednesday night, Warren stepped in to validate Biden proposals going forward. Since becoming the nominee, Biden has inched left on a number of progressive priorities, including her consumer bankruptcy protection plan, which opens up new avenues for relieving student debt.
“I love a good plan, and Joe Biden has some really good plans — plans to bring back union jobs in manufacturing and create new union jobs in clean energy,” Warren said. “Plans to increase Social Security benefits, cancel billions in student loan debt, and make our bankruptcy laws work for families instead of the creditors who cheat them.”
Harkening back to her own struggles juggling work and child care, a personal story she often told during her own campaign, Warren endorsed the Democratic ticket’s plans to make child care more affordable and available to working parents.
“It’s time to recognize that childcare is part of the basic infrastructure of this nation,” she said. “It’s infrastructure for families.”