Former first lady Michelle Obama hailed presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as a capable leader for a country of “compassionate, resilient, decent people,” while sharply criticizing President Donald Trump as lacking the ability to understand the feelings and experiences of others.
Capping the first of four nights of an extraordinary virtual Democratic national convention on Monday, Obama strongly argued that Trump had failed to adequately respond to economic and social crises and the coronavirus pandemic at home while turning away from international alliances built by previous administrations.
“Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can,” she said in a prerecorded speech. “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head.”
“He cannot meet this moment,” she added, in delivering the keynote address of the opening night. “He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us.”
Trump ridiculed the Democratic effort during a stop at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport earlier Monday, en route to a political gathering in Mankato, Minnesota.
“When you hear a speech is taped, it’s like there’s nothing very exciting about it, right?” Trump said to laughs from his supporters.
The coronavirus pandemic pushed the Democratic Party to abandon its plans to hold this week’s nominating convention in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, shifting instead to a virtual event with a mix of taped and lived remarks with politicians, celebrities and citizens from different parts of the country.
Next week, Republicans will hold their convention in much the same manner, with limited convention activity in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Trump making his presidential renomination acceptance speech from the White House.
Obama headed a parade of prominent Democrats and lesser-known Americans – as well as a handful of dissident Republicans -- who spent more than two hours praising Biden as the man best suited for addressing a historic public health, economic and racial justice crisis while portraying Trump as incapable of meeting the challenges.
Biden served as vice president for eight years under Obama’s husband, former President Barack Obama.
Michelle Obama cast Biden as capable of meeting the country’s current challenges.
“I know Joe. He is a profoundly decent man, guided by faith,” Michelle Obama said. “He was a terrific vice president. He knows what it takes to rescue an economy, beat back a pandemic and lead our country.
She cited the country’s ongoing battle with the novel coronavirus that has killed more people in the United States than any other nation, the millions of people who have lost their jobs, and the protests against racial inequality and police brutality that have taken place in cities all across the country.
“Whenever we look to this White House for some leadership or consolation or any semblance of steadiness, what we get instead is chaos, division, and a total and utter lack of empathy,” Michelle Obama said.
Monday night featured several Republican figures, including former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and one-time presidential candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, making unusual appearances at the opposing party’s convention to endorse Biden as a better choice for the country than Trump.
Former Ohio Governor John Kasich, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, said the country is “at a crossroads” and being led down “the wrong road” by a president who has pitted one person against another.
“Joe Biden is a man for our times,” Kasich said. “Times that call for all of us to take off our partisan hats and put our nation first for ourselves, and of course, for our children.”
The first night of the four-night convention also included statements of support from many of the Democrats who last year joined in what became a crowded field for the party’s nomination to take on Trump in November.
The last candidate opposite Biden in the race, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, said the nation is facing an “unprecedented moment” with a number of challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic, systemic racism and climate change.
“We have a president who is not only incapable of addressing these crises but is also leading us down the path of authoritarianism,” Sanders said.
In a nod to the role he and his staff have had in shaping the party’s platform since he dropped out of the race, Sanders said, “Many of the ideas we fought for, that just a few years ago were considered radical, are now mainstream.”
He highlighted several policy issues, including Biden’s support for a higher minimum wage, making it easier for workers to join unions, paid family leave, universal early education, affordable child care, rebuilding infrastructure and fighting climate change.
“The truth is that, even before Trump’s negligent response to this pandemic, too many hard-working families have been caught on an economic treadmill with no hope of ever getting ahead. Together we must build a nation that is more equitable, more compassionate and more inclusive,” Sanders said. “I know that Joe Biden will begin that fight on day one.”
WATCH: Virtual DNC
Several of the night’s speakers also addressed Trump’s stated opposition to expanding voter access to casting ballots by mail, something many states are allowing in order to have fewer people show up to polling sites amid the pandemic.
Those voicing support for such voting, and the U.S. Postal Service, included Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.
“Despite what the president says, voting by mail has been a secure, proven option for decades,” she said. “In 2016, 33 million Americans voted by mail. Even Donald Trump has requested an absentee ballot twice this year.”
The convention continues Tuesday with former President Bill Clinton, Biden’s wife, Jill, former Secretary of State John Kerry and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer among the speakers.
Biden’s vice presidential running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris — the first Black woman and first South Asian American on a national party ticket in the U.S – anchors the Wednesday night lineup, along with former President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Biden is set to officially accept the party’s nomination Thursday night. He plans to give his address in his home state of Delaware with only aides and political advisers present.
Meanwhile, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are visiting several political battleground states this week to try to upstage the Democrats, including a stop Thursday by Trump near where Biden grew up in the northeastern Pennsylvania city of Scranton.