Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Wednesday said Donald Trump was the first racist to win the presidency.
The former vice president’s sharp assessment of Trump – more direct than Biden has offered in the past – came at a virtual town hall hosted by the Service Employees International Union, after a health care worker who said she had emigrated from South Korea told Biden she had been racially profiled by White Americans at the supermarket.
Biden said he was “so angry” to hear her experience, indicated he shared her concern with Trump referring to the coronavirus as the “China virus” and blamed Trump for “his spreading of racism.”
“The way he deals with people based on the color of their skin, their national origin, where they’re from, is absolutely sickening,” Biden said.
“No sitting president has ever done this,” he said. “Never, never, never. No Republican president has done this. No Democratic president. We’ve had racists, and they’ve existed, that tried to get elected president; he’s the first one that has.”
Trump and his aides have at times referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus,” the “Wuhan virus” and “Kung flu.” Biden accused Trump of using the virus’s origin as “a wedge.”
“The way he pits people against one another is all designed to divide the country, divide people, not pulling them together,” Biden said.
In a statement, Trump campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson responded to Biden, saying, “President Trump loves all people, works hard to empower all Americans, and is supported by more Black voters than any Republican presidential candidate in modern history. No one should take lectures on racial justice from Joe Biden.”
Biden’s comment that Trump is the first racist to win the presidency ignores the reality that the United States has elected 12 presidents who owned slaves, and that many others publicly and privately made racist remarks.
Viewed through the lens of modern politics, Biden’s reference to racists “that tried to get elected president” could refer to former Alabama governor and segregationist George Wallace’s third-party bid in 1968.
Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders said in a statement after the former vice president’s comments that Trump was unique, particularly in modern history, because racism was a central theme in his campaign.
“There have been a number of racist American presidents, but Trump stands out – especially in modern history – because he made running on racism and division his calling card and won. He deliberately foments both, intentionally causing indescribable pain because he thinks it advantages him politically,” Sanders said. “The George Wallaces of our country’s history who have run on these hate-filled themes have lost.”
The comments were a more direct assessment of Trump than Biden has offered previously in the 2020 presidential race.
Biden launched his campaign saying he was motivated by Trump’s comment that there were “very fine people on both sides” of clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, between White supremacists who marched there and counter-protesters who objected to their racism.
But he has been careful to accuse Trump of fanning the flames of racism and promoting racist policies, without commenting on whether Trump himself is racist.
In June, Biden told “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah: “You know, Donald Trump didn’t invent racism but he sure has promoted it.”
He made a similar point in May at an AAPI forum.
“The pandemic has unleashed familiar forces of hate, fear and xenophobia that he always flames, and fans the flames, that have always existed in our society, but with this President it’s brought with it a new rash of racist messages, verbal, physical attacks, and other acts of hate,” Biden said then.
Campaigning in Iowa last August, Biden said Trump was “fanning the flames of white supremacy.”
This story has been updated with a statement from Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders.