Former Vice President Joe Biden told a UW-Madison crowd Tuesday the upcoming elections are a referendum on America’s values and what he described as a radically changing Republican Party under President Donald Trump.
Biden visited the university’s Gordon Event Center to address a crowd of about 1,000, mostly students. He urged them to vote — and to do so for U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tony Evers, in part because he said they have “character.”
The Nov. 6 election is “bigger than politics,” Biden said, adding, “I think we’re in a battle for America’s soul.”
“Americans already know who Donald Trump is,” Biden said. “The question is: ‘Who are we?’”
Invoking Saturday’s deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Biden warned that political extremism is on the rise in the U.S. He warned that the international reputation of the U.S. has plummeted under the leadership of a GOP he said is “not your father’s Republican Party.”
But Biden, in rhetoric out of step with the increasingly polarized national mood, also offered some “both parties” critiques.
“It’s up to our leaders to change the tone in both parties, to dial the temperature down, to restore some dignity to our national debate,” Biden said.
His final pitch to UW-Madison students urged them to restore American exceptionalism.
“Take back this incredible country! We are special, and the world needs us,” Biden said.
Biden also predicted that congressional Republicans, if they retain a majority after the upcoming election, will next move to massively cut Medicare and other entitlement programs.
Recounting his start in public life five decades ago, Biden told the crowd he was fueled at that time by his anger at the assassinations of two of his heroes, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
“We had had enough,” Biden said. “My sense is that’s where you guys are.”
Biden’s mostly serious speech included a few playful turns, including a nod to online memes about his close relationship with former President Barack Obama.
“Barack and I really are friends — all those memes are basically true,” Biden said.
Walker’s campaign used the Biden visit to again slam Evers for his recent Department of Public Instruction budget request containing plagiarized sections. Biden’s failed 1988 presidential campaign was plagued by allegations he plagiarized a speech and his work while in law school. Evers has said his department made a mistake and would update its training protocol.
Biden’s visit came as both parties are trying to encourage early voting ahead of next week’s midterm election. Trump’s son Eric campaigned Tuesday afternoon with state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, who is running against Baldwin, in Kronenwetter and Wisconsin Rapids.
Biden is touring the Midwest this week — he visited Ohio State University Monday and will go to St. Louis Wednesday — urging support for Democratic candidates. Biden, 75, is widely viewed as a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 but has not yet said if he will seek it.
Biden is the latest high-profile national figure to visit Wisconsin in advance of the upcoming elections.
Former President Barack Obama visited Milwaukee on Friday to rally with Evers and Baldwin, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, was there Monday.
On Wednesday, GOP President Donald Trump was in Mosinee, near Wausau.