So far ahead of the pack that he can only see Donald Trump, former vice president Joe Biden kept his sights on the president Monday night and warned during a private Coral Gables fundraiser that the greatest threat to the future of America — world peace, even — is currently occupying the White House.
Trump’s first term will “go down as an aberration, an anomaly. But eight years will fundamentally change the nature of who we are,” Biden told a crowd of about 200 who donated to Biden’s campaign to see him speak at the Gables Club, 10 Edgewater Dr., along the Coral Gables Waterway.
“The rest of the world is wondering what’s going on,” he said. “Eight years of this and I think we’ll have a phenomenal dislocation occur around the world. I think you’ll see the end of NATO and a whole range of other things that really are the things that maintain peace.”
Biden, 76, flew into Miami Monday after a stop in Nashville, and will be in Orlando Tuesday as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination tours the country. He stopped in Coral Gables to attend a fundraiser hosted by developer Michael Adler, who was the national finance chairman of Biden’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Introduced by Adler, Biden gave a 15-minute version of his stump speech that featured two contrasting themes: the need for Americans to come together and the divisiveness created by Trump.
“We’re the United States of America. There’s not a damn thing we can’t do,” he said. “But there’s not much we can do if he’s still there.”
Biden began speaking at 7:43 p.m. Notable attendees included Miami-Dade County commissioners Daniella Levine Cava and Sally Heyman, City of Miami commissioners Ken Russell and Keon Hardemon, former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and State Rep. Joe Geller (all Democrats).
As they noshed on hors d’oeuvres brought around by staff inside a marbled-floor lobby, across town a large group was dispersing from Wynwood Walls after listening to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The millennial dark horse — like the other two dozen or so Democratic candidates hoping to catch up to Biden in the polls — held a grassroots gathering at the hipster tourist attraction before heading to South Beach for a private South Beach fundraiser.
“We weren’t sure if anybody would come,” quipped Buttigieg, 37, who even dropped in a “Game of Thrones” pun. “But this takes care of that. Florida’s been pretty good to us. We just might come back.”
During his roughly 20-minute speech, Buttigieg said the 2020 election is unlike previous ones, calling it “a moment in between chapters in the American story.”
Buttigieg, who is openly gay, described himself to the crowd as “not the prototypical presidential candidate,” saying Washington could benefit from someone outside the D.C. landscape with experience running a community.
He spoke at times about Trump, criticizing the president’s short-lived family separation policy. But he spent relatively little time on the president, focusing mostly on the idea of a “new generation of American leadership.”
Freddy Balsera, a Coral Gables Democratic consultant and one of the hosts of Monday’s event, said Buttigieg projects an image and character that should help unify a party that has gone through an identity crisis. He views Buttigieg as the future of the party.
“There’s general goodwill toward Mayor Pete,” said Balsera. “I have the utmost respect for Joe Biden, but in the case of Mayor Pete, there’s that inspirational factor.”
But if Buttigieg is the future of the Democratic Party, polls say Biden is the present. And Biden’s Coral Gables speech was as much about defeating Trump as it was restoring faith in the country.
“If we continue this battle going on the last three years for another four … China is going to be in 5G. [Artificial intelligence] is going to be owned by them,” Biden said. “They’re spending billions of dollars and we’re standing here with our thumb in our ear while the rest of the world is passing us by. So folks, it’s time to remember who we are.”
-- DAVID SMILEY AND CAITLIN OSTROFF