HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden criticized President Donald Trump without saying his name Saturday, telling a crowd of Florida Democrats last year's election unleashed a coarseness that hadn't been seen in decades but he said the party's candidates can overcome that by showing disgruntled voters that they have solutions.
Giving a campaign-style, 45-minute speech at the state Democratic Party's annual fundraising dinner, Biden told about 1,300 party supporters that Democrats must help Americans see that the future is bright and overcome their fears. Biden has said he isn't planning a third run for president by challenging Trump in 2020 -- though he hasn't ruled it out either -- and he certainly acted like a potential candidate Saturday. He got laughs when he pointed out Saturday was his 40th wedding anniversary, but he was spending it giving a speech.
"This past election cycle churned up some of the ugliest, ugliest realities that persist in our country. Civilized discourse and real debate gave way to the coarsest rhetoric, stoking some of the darkest emotions in this nation," said Biden, 74. "I thought that after all these years we had passed the days when it was acceptable for politicians to bestow legitimacy on hate speech and fringe ideologies."
Biden said Democrats could overcome that by showing everyone from working-class white men to women to minorities that they are the party of ideas and solutions. He called investing in schools, community colleges and infrastructure and providing health care, saying that's how to improve the economy, not by building walls and excluding Muslim immigrants.
"We have to make it clear what we stand for and unite Americans behind the values which we stand for," Biden said. "We can't get bogged down in this phony debate going on in the Democratic Party. The Hobson's choice we have been given is that we need to become less progressive and focus more on working folk or become more progressive and focus less on working folk. There is no need to choose. They are not inconsistent."
He said Democrats need to show Americans that their country is still the greatest in the world and will be for the foreseeable future. China, he said, is no match with its exploding population, lack of clean water and polluted farmland and that the U.S. military is the world's strongest by far.
"I believe with every fiber of my being that we are better positioned than any nation in the world to be the single-most productive, capable, value-added country," Biden said. "The reason why the rest of the world looks to us -- and this administration doesn't get it -- is that the example of our power is the power of our example. That's why we are able to lead."
If Biden were to challenge Trump, Florida would be vital to his campaign as it is the largest swing state. Democrats and Republicans have split Florida over the last six elections and in 13 of the last 14 its winner took the presidency.
Biden has been busy this month, launching a political action committee, American Possibilities, that would be a springboard if he runs for president; flying to Greece, where he addressed a climate change conference; speaking three days later at a Utah political summit organized by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney; and attending the commissioning in Houston of a battleship named after former Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a 2011 assassination attempt.
Biden served 36 years in the Senate from Delaware and twice chaired the Foreign Relations Committee. He considered challenging Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the 2016 nomination but was emotionally spent after his 46-year-old son, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer. A bid for the 1988 nomination ended after he plagiarized a speech and exaggerated his college record. A 2008 bid ended quickly when he got 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses that kick off the nominating season.