Perhaps Democrats can reconcile the two wings of their party, but last night’s Joe Biden rally didn’t offer much hope of that. Interrupted multiple times during his Detroit appearance, Biden seemed flummoxed by a NAFTA protest, at first thinking it was a statement for Donald Trump before commenting that “the Bernie Bros are here.” The next protest, in favor of the Green New Deal, turned a little more violent:
After Biden took the stage, protesters unfurled banners, one that read: “NAFTA killed our jobs.”
Looking into the crowd, Biden started, “Are you a Donald Trump …?
Then as a member of the crowd tried to tear away the banner, Biden said, “That’s OK, let him go. This is not a Trump rally. Let him go, let him go. The Bernie Bros are here. Let him go.”
Minutes later, a larger group of pro-Green New Deal demonstrators began shouting over Biden’s remarks and waving signs. But as staff members tried moving the group along. Biden senior aide Symone Sanders was hit on the head with an iPad and knocked down.
Sanders gets up with some assistance afterward, as you can see in the video, saying, “Who hit me on my damn head?” She tries to mollify the crowd by telling them that she and Biden want to hear their concerns, but the crowd around the protest is attempting to shout them down at the same time:
Here’s close-up footage of the scrum at Biden’s Detroit event, when Green New Deal protesters interrupted his speech
— Tim Alberta (@TimAlberta) March 10, 2020
Let me make three observations about this sequence of events:
- Politico reports that this event had 2,000 people at it. Maybe, but from the pan of the video, that looks like a very generous estimate. The gymnasium looks pretty small, and it also doesn’t look very full. There are barely any people standing on the balcony level at all. Look at the spaces between people on the gym floor to get a sense of how much room there still was in that venue.
- The protest looks relatively small in relation to the crowd size, and yet it basically derailed the program while it went on. Biden stopped speaking during most of it, looking surprised to be challenged at his own event. Despite being the presumptive front-runner all last year, Team Biden and Biden himself seem strangely unprepared for this predictable reaction to his renaissance in the primaries.
- The Green New Deal protest is curious too, since Biden has claimed that he supports that agenda. It’s clearly a stalking horse for Bernie Sanders and his supporters rather than an issue-based protest. (The Bernie Bros succeed in overshouting the crowd with the unimaginative a hey hey, ho ho, Joe Biden has got to go chant for a goodly portion here.) Biden’s supporters counter-protest, but they don’t seem terribly impassioned by this challenge to their candidate either.
It’s one event, so it’s tough to draw broader conclusions from it. Nevertheless, it’s in a key state which both sides have to win and it’s at the eleventh hour. Disunity comes with the territory in a primary, but the nature of this disruption strongly suggests that the disunity isn’t just a function of the primary fight, either. The turnout here and Biden’s reaction to the protest suggest he’s not quite ready for the task ahead — or for uniting the party, either. “The Bernie Bros are here” isn’t exactly a ringing shout-out intended to woo their support.
Finally, Biden’s correct about one other thing, too: “This is not a Trump rally.” It’s not even close, and Trump wouldn’t get silenced by protesters like this either.