Joe Biden delivered a forceful call for national unity on Tuesday from the swing state of Pennsylvania, casting the nation as a “house divided” and the election as a high-stakes contest defined by seismic issues of life-or-death consequence that, he argued, should transcend traditional partisan disagreements.
In a 22-minute speech outdoors in Gettysburg, near the Civil War battlefield that serves as a symbol of a country split against itself, Biden drew parallels between that dark time in American history and the turmoil of the current moment, saying the country was again in “a battle for the soul of the nation,” reprising a central theme of his candidacy.
“You don’t have to agree with me on everything, or even on most things,” Biden said, to see that what “we’re experiencing today is neither good nor normal.”
Biden sought to present himself as a bipartisan figure, eager to paint the most searing issues of the day — the pandemic, racial injustice, economic crises — as American challenges, rather then problems that should be viewed through a political lens. The message was a striking contrast with the actions on Tuesday of Biden’s opponent, President Donald Trump, who ended talks with Democrats over an economic stimulus bill even as millions of Americans struggle with the financial fallout of the health crisis.
“This pandemic is not a red-state or blue-state issue,” Biden said. The virus “doesn’t care where you live, what political party you belong to. It affects us all.”
Biden was defiant in expressing belief in reaching out to Republicans even at a moment of staggering political polarization, a view that has drawn skepticism from many in his party. And he pointed to U.S. traumas of the past — in particular the Civil War — both as a warning and as evidence that the country is capable of overcoming even the most corrosive divisions.
“Today, once again, we are a house divided, but that, my friends, can no longer be,” Biden said, invoking Abraham Lincoln. “We are facing too many crises, we have too much work to do, we have too bright a future to have it shipwrecked on the shoals of anger and hate and division.”
His remarks suggested that he intends to end his bid for the White House as he began it: by framing the election as a national emergency whose outcome will determine the trajectory and the character of the country for years to come.
Too many Americans are engaged in “total, unrelenting, partisan warfare,” he said. “Instead of treating each other’s party as the opposition, we treat them as the enemy. … We need to revive the spirit of bipartisanship in this country.”
If Biden was aiming to win over Republican voters in this swing state, he had limited reason for hope. In Pennsylvania, just 15% of likely GOP voters expressed a positive view of Biden, said a New York Times/Siena College poll released this week. But among independent voters, 54% see him positively, while 44% see him negatively.
Trump tweeted on Tuesday that he planned to attend the presidential debate scheduled for Oct. 15, even as he remains infectious and doctors have warned that the course of his illness is unpredictable.