Even before former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif, joined as running mates, they both used the same words to describe the importance of stopping President Donald Trump from getting reelected, dramatically calling the 2020 campaign a "battle for the soul of the nation."
The phrase has emerged as the Democratic ticket's response to Trump's ubiquitous "Make America Great Again," being inserted into everything from speeches to the campaign website. Though Biden and Harris were Democratic rivals for the better part of 2020 campaign, both candidates used versions of the phrase over the course of the Democratic primary.
Seven months after leaving office, Biden used the phrase in firing the first shot in what grew into his campaign to unseat Trump. In an August 2017 op-ed, he decried Trump's tepid response to the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where far-right nationalists clashed with counter-protesters, leaving one woman dead.
"If it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now: We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation," Biden wrote after the incident. "Today we have an American president who has publicly proclaimed a moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and Klansmen and those who would oppose their venom and hate."
In their first appearance as running mates on Wednesday, Biden repeated that sentiment, declaring the moment Trump said there had been "very fine people on both sides" of that confrontation, was the moment he knew, "we were in the battle for the soul of the nation."
"That’s when I decided to run," he said.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 12, 2020
After his op-ed, Biden would repeat the phrase over and over again as a candidate and even before he picked Harris as his running mate, the words were splashed on his campaign website. Meanwhile, Harris used almost the exact same words at various points in the Democratic primary campaign.
"The task is to fight for the soul of our country," Harris said at an April 2019 campaign event in Nevada. "We are better than this."
And in her book, "The Truths We Hold: An American Journey," which was published in January 2019, Harris wrote that she realized America's soul was on the line on election night 2016 when it became clear Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton.
"One campaign was over, but another was about to begin. A campaign that called on us all to enlist," she wrote. "This time, a battle for the soul of our nation."
In one of her first tweets after being named Biden's running mate, Harris tweeted out the phrase.
Harris concluded her remarks Wednesday by repeating Biden's view that Charlottesville had made it clear that America was in a battle for its soul and said, "Together, with your help, that’s a battle we will win."
Spencer Critchley, who worked on former President Barack Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns, said the use of the phrase by both Biden and Harris was "not a surprising coincidence, because I think whether people use that specific language or not, the exact same thought has occurred to so many of us across the country."
Critchley said Democratic candidates, such as Clinton, can often focus too much on analytical arguments and policy details. Speaking about the country's soul is an effective way to speak to the "non-rational" part of voters' minds.
"There is more to life than reason, and people are not motivated by data. They are motivated by matters of the heart and the soul," he said.
Democratic strategist and columnist Michael Gordon said the use of such similar language from the two candidates shows "they both see this election as about the fundamental values that Americans hold, and the fundamental values that our country lives by."
Gordon said framing the election as a fight for America's soul can persuade independent voters who are wary of Trump and motivate progressive Democrats who may view Biden as too moderate.
"People are just looking for a reason to pull the lever for this ticket. Talking about the fundamental damage that Trump has done and repairing that – and actually bring us to a better place, perhaps because of it – I think will resonate and inspire," Gordon said. "We need to appeal to those swing suburban voters, but we also need to inspire the base to come out, and so I think it's a theme that works for both."
Some conservative commentators, on the other hand, felt the rhetoric rang hollow.
"This Joe Biden 'battle for the soul of the nation' business is something – 'Who are we as a nation? What do we stand for? What do we want to be?'" tweeted the National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez. "People who think abortion is the way forward & the Knights of Columbus are the problem? That's what his Kamala Harris choice indicates."
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden and Harris both see election as fight the 'soul of the nation'