Waukee, Iowa — With four days to go until the Iowa caucuses, former vice president Joe Biden began his day on the campaign trail speaking to a crowd of roughly 250 Iowans, 250 journalists, and 50 video cameras in a small school gymnasium located about a 20-minute drive from Des Moines.
Wearing a suit and tie and reading from a teleprompter, Biden delivered a closing argument that was light on policy. He made some brief remarks about how he would build on Obamacare by creating a new “public Medicare-like option” — a slogan that doesn’t quite sing like Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare for All” or even Pete Buttigieg’s “Medicare for all who want it.”
Biden also said he’d do everything he could to reinstate the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004. “I promise you we are finally going to get rid of the immoral exemption” that gun companies can’t be sued for gun violence, Biden added.
Biden’s closing argument to Iowans went heavy on the theme he announced at the start of his campaign — that as president he would “restore the character of the nation.”
In Biden’s telling, America can recover from four years of President Trump, but eight years of a Trump presidency would “fundamentally change the nature” of American society. He criticized President Trump for mocking teenage climate-activist Greta Thunberg’s “anger” problems and quoted Captain “Sully” Sullenberger’s condemnation of President Trump’s “culture of cruelty.” He also cited New York Times columnist David Brooks on the importance of the “invisible moral fabric” that holds together a nation.
While a number of Senate Republicans have alleged at President Trump’s impeachment trial that Joe Biden is corrupt for allowing his adult son to earn $1 million by sitting on the Ukrainian gas-company Burisma, Biden pledged that if he were elected president no American would be “above the law.”
Biden’s speech lasted 18 minutes, and he took no questions from voters or the press.
James Benzoni of Des Moines, a volunteer for the Biden campaign, said it was the “best speech he ever gave.”
“Joe talks like a first-year lawyer,” Benzoni told me. “I’ve been telling [the Biden campaign], if you’d write it out the way Lincoln did, he’d been more organized” and wouldn’t “fumble over his words.”
Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack spoke briefly after Biden had finished his speech, making the case that Biden could beat Trump and emphasizing Biden’s theme that character matters.
Vilsack told the crowd that he had recently been teaching his grandson Jake about the Ten Commandments prior to his grandson’s First Communion. Vilsack said he told his grandson that “there are a lot of priests and ministers and pastors who are very upset with President Trump” because “the president tends to take the Lord’s name in public far too often.”
“Jake looks up and me and says, ‘Yes, granddad, that’s why we need Joe Biden for president,’” Vilsack said to applause.
A few voters leaving the event said the speech helped them make up their minds to caucus for Biden on Monday night. Jane from Urbandale said that she thought the “other candidates are fine candidates,” but Biden is most likely to beat Trump in November.
Kathleen O’Malley from Winter Heights said that she has “almost” made up her mind for Biden but is still considering voting for Amy Klobuchar. “I want to stop Bernie,” O’Malley told me. “I like the fact that [Biden] is experienced, that he knows foreign leaders. He’s just a good person, and I think he could do a lot for our country.”