Former Vice President Joe Biden officially joined the Democratic presidential race Thursday with an incendiary announcement video that focused on the deadly march in Charlottesville and portrayed Donald Trump as a stain on American history who must be removed from power.
“If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen,” he said.
Biden has led early polling of potential Democratic candidates for months, in part due to the name-recognition that comes with serving two terms as President Barack Obama’s vice president and decades in the Senate. His intention to run has become an open secret in recent weeks, but few people expected him to enter the race with such an aggressive and direct attack on the president.
The 76-year-old former Delaware senator plans to formally kick off his presidential campaign with an appearance at a Pittsburgh union hall on Monday. Biden’s first interview after his announcement, an appearance on The View, will air on Friday.
The four-minute video posted on his Twitter account Thursday morning contrasted sharply with the optimistic announcements by his many Democratic rivals. Biden was presenting himself as the brawler who has the power and the willingness to go toe-to-toe with Trump in what is guaranteed to be a bruising presidential election in 2020.
“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” he said, claiming that American democracy is “at stake” under Trump.
The launch video shows men with tiki torches shouting “Jews will not replace us” and images of swastikas and Confederate flags at the right-wing marches that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
“We saw Klansmen and white supremacists and neo-Nazis come out in the open. Their crazed faces illuminated by torches, veins bulging and baring the fangs of racism, chanting the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the ’30s,” he said.
“That’s when we heard the words of the president of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation. He said there were quote some ‘very fine people on both sides.’ Very fine people on both sides?”
Biden said he’s running for president because everything about American democracy is “at stake” under a Trump presidency. “We have to remember who we are—this is America.”
In the widest and most diverse field of presidential contenders in the party’s history, Biden will have to combat concerns that his age, more moderate legislative and policy record, and recent questions about his interactions with women make him just another old white guy seeking the nomination.
“He operated at a different time and environment and will have a lot to answer for,” a former Obama-Biden aide told The Daily Beast last month. “Look at Hillary Clinton’s numbers before she got into the 2016 race. The most popular moment is when you're a prospective candidate and a statesman who can shape the field from the outside. Being in presidential campaigns tends to be diminishing for everyone except for the victor.”
Biden told reporters after a speech in front of union workers in Washington, D.C., last month that he would bide his time as the Democratic field continued to grow. “My intention from the beginning was if I were to run would be the last person to announce,” he said.
It appears he has surveyed the field and concluded that no one else has shown the firepower to stand up to Trump. By going after the president directly—over the heads of his primary challengers—Biden appeared to signal his unrivaled stature in American public life.
The aggressive campaign launch may also be pitched at America's white working-class voters, a cohort that Democrats are desperate to win back from Trump. Biden has made his close ties with union workers a centerpiece of his until-now nascent presidential campaign in recent weeks, joining a picket line of striking grocery store workers in Massachusetts and telling a firefighters union in Washington that the United States “was built by the great American middle class—and unions built that middle class.”
His relationship with the unions and working classes combined with his close ties to Obama-era fundraisers and staffers, gives the former vice president a formidable campaign operation—to the point that deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told NBC News that Biden requested Obama not endorse his candidacy, so as to avoid the appearance that the Democratic establishment was in the tank for his campaign.
Biden’s family foundation has also announced that it will suspend all operations, effective immediately.
In all of his decades of experience, however, lurk potential landmines for any presidential candidate, particularly a presumptive frontrunner with nearly two dozen opponents seeking to bring him down. Biden’s first two presidential campaigns, in 1988 and 2008, ended disastrously after a plagiarism scandal and a racially insensitive gaffe about his future running mate, respectively, and Biden’s handling of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings provides fertile ground for opponents who will likely seek to paint him as too out of touch with the current Democratic Party.
More recently, Biden’s own behavior with women has come under scrutiny as well. After a former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in Nevada described feeling deeply uncomfortable when he touched her, kissed her and smelled her hair during a campaign event in 2016, more than half a dozen women came forward to describe similar physical interactions.
Biden responded to the allegations in a cellphone video, saying that he would be more “mindful” of women’s personal space in the future, but later joked about the controversy, a sign that the former vice president’s famously undisciplined speaking style, too, presents potential pitfalls.