Aug 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

"There's only chaos": Bill Clinton to attack Trump directly in DNC speech

Bill Clinton

Photo: Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

Former President Bill Clinton will use his five-minute address at the virtual Democratic National Convention to take a scalpel to President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and the economy, repeatedly attacking him by name, a source familiar with the speech tells Axios.

Why it matters: As a former president, Clinton has sanded down his private criticism of Trump in public. But tonight, he’ll dispense with the “one-president-at-a-time” protocol that precludes direct and sustained criticism by a predecessor.

What he'll say: “Donald Trump says we’re leading the world. 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. There’s only chaos."

  • "Just one thing never changes—his determination to deny responsibility and shift the blame. The buck never stops there.”
  • “Our party is united in offering you a very different choice: a go-to-work president. A down-to-earth, get-the-job-done guy. A man with a mission: to take responsibility, not shift the blame; concentrate, not distract; unite, not divide. Our choice is Joe Biden.”

Details: Clinton will speak at the beginning of the second hour of programming, ahead of Jill Biden. Because his speech was taped in his Chappaqua, New York, living room before Sen. Kamala Harris’ selection as Joe Biden's running mate, he won’t directly mention her.

  • In the first half, he’ll directly target Trump and his response to the coronavirus.
  • In the second half, he’ll explain how Biden’s Senate and White House experience will help him heal the country and revitalize the economy as president.

Between the lines: Clinton has seen his standing as trusted party elder called into question as a result of the #MeToo reckoning. But Democrats familiar with the convention planning say that his presence is evidence that Biden needs to improve his numbers among working-class Americans who fled the party in 2016.

  • Clinton turns 74 tomorrow and has barely left his residence since the pandemic began.

Flashback: This will be Clinton’s 11th DNC address. His oratory has received mixed reviews at past conventions.

  • In 1988, the rowdy floor grew impatient with Clinton’s meandering 33-minute address, cheering when he said “in closing.”
  • But testifying to President Barack Obama’s strengths in 2012, he read the room, deviated from his prepared remarks and riffed for nearly 50 minutes, to rave reviews on the convention floor and skybox studios.
  • Tonight’s speech will feel more like the Saturday morning radio addresses he gave as president.

The bottom line: Clinton will want to prove that he can still deliver.

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