Former Vice President Joe Biden addressed some 90 donors on a lush lawn north of Ketchum during a fundraiser Monday night, calling out white supremacy and hate—while bashing President Donald Trump’s “divisive” presidency—in the wake of weekend mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
“Eight years of this man will fundamentally change the nature of who we are as a nation,” he said of Trump. “We’re acting like this is somehow just a momentary aberration. He’s changing the nature of we are. ... This is serious, serious, serious business. Everyone knows who Donald Trump is. Even his supporters know who he is. They have no illusions about him. We’ve got to let him know who the hell we are.”
The Democratic frontrunner for the 2020 presidential race addressed ticketed supporters in a tented outdoor dining room at the home of Alan and Melinda Blinken near Adams Gulch, before a meal, meet-and-greet and photo-op with the gathered guests. He did not take questions from the press.
Alan Blinken was an ambassador to Belgium in the 1990s, and his library is adorned with signed photos alongside his former bosses, Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Following an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 2002, he has remained a steadfast booster for the party, and a prominent local Democrat.
Buoyed by tourism and second homes, Blaine County—particularly its northern towns of Ketchum and Sun Valley—is a rarity in Idaho, a blue-leaning droplet in a reliably Republican state. It’s also one of the richest areas in the region, a fact well evidenced by the ambassador’s grand eight-bedroom, 9.5-bath home, set in an aspen glade near the Big Wood River. Biden is the second Democratic hopeful to stop by the Sun Valley area on his campaign trail; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee held a fundraiser here on July 21.
At $2,800 per ticket—a number seen on invitations and confirmed by Biden himself—the fundraiser drew a pair of low-key protesters up the road. “Biden for sale,” one sign read. But on-site, the mood was upbeat.
“I’d like to welcome everybody here so we can elect the next president of the United States,” Alan Blinken said, before introducing Jill Biden, the candidate’s wife.
In the wake of the weekend shootings, both Bidens recalled the events that occurred almost two years ago in Charlottesville, Va., when a rally of white supremacist and other far-right groups turned violent, killing one counter-protester and wounding 19 more.
“We didn’t really intend on going on this journey,” Jill Biden said of the 2020 run. “But when it came down to it, too many people were saying, ‘Joe has to run, Joe has to run.’ They kept coming up to me on the street, in the airport. And then Charlottesville happened, and the drumbeat got louder, and louder.
“It was our grandchildren, who said, to a child, ‘Pop has to run.’ Our kids know what’s going on. They know we need someone in the White House who has integrity, who has strength of character. We cannot have four more years of Donald Trump. And Joe is the one man who can bring people together.”
Then the candidate seized on his wife’s message, grabbing a wireless microphone and milling around the lawn’s 10 round tables.
“What really changed our mind to actually run was Charlottesville,” he said. “I come out of it as a kid of the civil rights movement. I never thought … in my life I’d ever see what we saw in Charlottesville in 2017. People coming out of fields, carrying torches with contorted faces. Singing and chanting the same exact anti-Semitic bile that was chanted all throughout Nuremberg, Berlin, all throughout Germany in the 1930s, accompanied by white supremacists, members of the Ku Klux Klan. And when the president was asked to comment, he said something that no president in history has ever said. He said, ‘There were very fine people in both groups.’ And, it hasn’t stopped since then. He has been as divisive and as characterless as he was then.”
Earlier on Monday, Trump condemned domestic terrorism and the “sinister ideologies” of “racist hate,” bigotry and white supremacy.
“We cannot allow ourselves to feel powerless,” he said in a speech in Washington. “We can and will stop this evil contagion. In that task, we must honor the sacred memory of those we have lost by acting as one people. Open wounds cannot heal if we are divided.”
The president called out video games, mental illness and “the dark recesses of the internet,” but did not voice support for any specific gun-control measures, such as a ban on assault-style weapons backed by many Democrats, including the former vice president.
Biden didn’t offer detailed solutions during his speech Monday, either, though he did say that extremism is the chief issue facing the United States right now, that without first tamping it down, all other policy debates are hopeless.
For Biden, Trump’s re-marks did little to pull back the oxygen he believes the president’s rhetoric has given extremist views since the 2016 campaign. The shootings in El Paso and Dayton, which as of Tuesday morning had left 31 dead, echo the Charlottesville tragedy, he said.
“The American people may have run out of tears, but thank God they haven’t run out of commitment to do something about this,” he said. “Enough from Washington about how these people were madmen. This is about anger, white nationalism, unadulterated hate. It has to be rooted out—just ripped out. And the fact of the matter is, it’s not happening. It’s not happening at all.”
It won’t, he told the crowd, under another term of Donald Trump.
“This is the United States of America—there’s not a damn thing we can’t do,” he added. “We have to remember who we are. This is a country, and an idea. And the only thing that can bring it down is America itself. As I’ve said, we have always led by the power of our example, not the example of our power. This guy [Donald Trump] just doesn’t get it.”