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Tim Kaine’s DNC speech was about making Democrats, not the GOP, the party of moral values

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Tim Kaine’s big speech at the Democratic National Convention covered a lot of ground: Kaine’s own background, a case for Hillary Clinton, and attacks on Donald Trump.

But his speech had a bigger unifying theme: Kaine argued that the Democratic Party is now the true party of moral values, in contrast to a GOP led by candidate he called a "moral disaster."

He tied together his faith and his political career, arguing that he, Clinton, and other Democrats are motivated primarily by a desire to do good and improve the world.

And he went hard after Trump, calling him "a slick talking, empty-promising, self-promoting, one-man wrecking crew" who had trashed the onetime party of Lincoln.

Kaine’s pitch wasn’t aimed at the Democratic faithful. And he's not on the ticket to appeal to the party's base.

Instead, he was trying to appeal to undecided independents and even Republicans at home, people who might be reluctant to back Democrats but are deeply concerned about Trump’s character and fitness for office.

Kaine pitched himself as a man of faith and moral character

Throughout his remarks, Kaine placed faith and family front and center. He opened by describing his son’s service in the Marines — "Semper fi!" — before describing wholesome, Middle American upbringing.

My folks weren’t much into politics. My dad ran a union ironworks shop. My mom was his best salesman. My brothers and I pitched in to help during summers and on weekends. That’s how small family businesses do it. My parents, Al and Kathy, here tonight and going strong, they taught me about hard work, and about kindness, and, most importantly, about faith.

"My faith became vital," Kaine said, "a North Star for orienting my life. And I knew that I wanted to fight for social justice." (A video introducing Kaine said he had lived "a life built on selfless, humble service.")

And after describing his work as a missionary, a civil rights lawyer, and a politician, Kaine tied things back to faith again. "My journey has convinced me that God has created a rich tapestry in this country," he said. "An incredible cultural diversity that succeeds when we embrace everyone in love and battle back against the dark forces of division."

Alluding to the words of Jesus, he added, "We’re all neighbors, and we must love our neighbors as ourselves."

Finally, he summed things up by positioning the Democratic Party as the party of service and good works:

Hillary Clinton and I are compañeros del alma. We share this belief: Do all the good you can. Serve one another. That’s what I’m about. That’s what you’re about. That’s what Bernie Sanders is about. That’s what Joe Biden is about. That’s what Barack and Michelle Obama are about. And that’s what Hillary Clinton is about.

Kaine argued that the Republican Party had fallen under the spell of an immoral liar

But a vice presidential nominee isn’t only supposed to be warm and fuzzy. Traditionally, he or she must also be an attack dog, making the case against the nominee’s opponent.

And Kaine did that too — arguing that something had gone deeply wrong with the Republican Party and that it was now led by an immoral, selfish liar.

His own father-in-law, Kaine said, had long been a Republican and still was. But he’s "voting for a lot of Democrats these days," because "any party that would nominate Donald Trump for president has moved too far away from the party of Lincoln."

"If any of you are looking for that party of Lincoln," Kaine added, "we’ve got a home for you right here in the Democratic Party!"

Interestingly, Kaine held off from direct attacks on the party as a whole — likely because he wanted to appeal to traditional Republican voters. The problem with the party, his speech implied, was mainly Trump.

In a routine where he frequently broke into an impression of Trump, Kaine argued that Trump makes phony promises, won’t offer policy details, and rips off ordinary mom 'n' pop small-business owners.

"Small contractors — companies just like my dad’s — believed him when he said that he’d pay them to build a casino in Atlantic City," Kaine said. But, he said, Trump ripped them off. "He walked away with millions. They got pennies on the dollar. Some of them went out of business. All because they believed Donald Trump."

In a further attempt to appeal to Republican voters, he cited Republicans who’d rejected Trump, like Barbara Bush and John Kasich. The Ohio governor, he said, "had the honor of hosting the Republican convention in Cleveland, but wouldn’t even attend it because he thinks Trump is such a moral disaster."

"Take it from the guy who co-wrote Trump’s autobiography," Kaine continued, alluding to a recent New Yorker article. "For Trump, he said, ‘lying is second nature to him.’"

Indeed, Kaine’s whole speech seemed designed to portray himself as the perfect contrast to Trump — humble where Trump is egotistical, earnest where Trump is cynical, and honest where Trump lies. The question is whether voters will believe him.