No Applause, No Crowds: Democrats Begin a Most Unusual Convention

Since the dawn of the television age, the presidential conventions have been aimed at the millions of Americans watching the festivities from their homes, with the two parties using the gatherings to offer an uplifting case for their nominee and to savage the opposition. Those who spoke on Mr. Biden’s behalf on Monday made those same appeals — but almost everything else about the nature of this event was unique.

While the presentation had the unmistakable aura of life in a pandemic, the roster of speakers had a more vintage feel — less a vision of the Democratic Party’s future than a bridge to the 20th century. There were those nearing or in their 80s: Mr. Sanders and Mr. Clyburn; three Republicans who made their names in the 1990s, Mr. Kasich, former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey and former Representative Susan Molinari of New York; and a current governor whose name evokes conventions’ past, Andrew M. Cuomo of New York.

Mr. Cuomo’s remarks, however, were far less lofty than those delivered by his father, Mario M. Cuomo, in 1984, a rousing speech that gave him national recognition. His son focused on New York’s response to the coronavirus crisis. “Only a strong body can fight off the virus, and America’s divisions weakened it,” said Mr. Cuomo, calling Mr. Trump’s response to the pandemic “dysfunctional and incompetent.”

Perhaps the most searing critique of Mr. Trump came not from an elected official but from Kristin Urquiza, a young woman whose father, a Trump supporter, died of the coronavirus. Speaking briefly and in raw terms about her loss, Ms. Urquiza said of her father, “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life.”

Beyond the pandemic, Democrats sought to use the first night of the convention to highlight the breadth of support Mr. Biden enjoys, hoping to send a signal to voters across abroad range of the ideological spectrum.

In this way, Monday’s program was reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s convention four years ago, when the party also tried to bring along its left flank but spent even more time seeking to portray Mr. Trump as an outlier far removed from the political mainstream.

The specter of a Trump presidency back then, however, was a theoretical proposition. This year, Democrats were able to lay out a more powerful indictment based on Mr. Trump’s tenure in the White House. And had Democrats nominated a more liberal candidate than the consensus-oriented Mr. Biden, they might not have been able lure former Republican office holders.