Biden: “Is Democracy Still America’s Sacred Cause?”
Making 2024 about 2021 and 1777.
WaPo (“Biden, in Valley Forge speech, hits Trump hard as threat to democracy“):
President Biden on Friday delivered his first campaign speech of this election year, attempting to define the 2024 presidential race as a battle for the future of American democracy and portray former president Donald Trump as its chief antagonist.
In remarks that cast the future of the country in stark and dire terms — focusing more tightly on his predecessor than perhaps in any other speech in his presidency — Biden framed his campaign in sweeping language. “Today we’re here to answer the most important of questions: Is democracy still America’s sacred cause?” he said. “It’s what the 2024 election is all about.”
Biden spoke at a community college about 10 miles from Valley Forge National Historical Park, where George Washington mobilized troops during the Revolutionary War to fight for democracy some 250 years ago. The president’s remarks came on the eve of the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, when a Trump-inspired mob stormed the U.S. Capitol and attempted to prevent Biden from taking office despite his clear victory in the 2020 election.
In a speech that stretched some 30 minutes, Biden mentioned Trump’s name at least 44 times, referring to him in the beginning, middle and end — a clear signal that he is pivoting to campaign mode and sees his predecessor as his all-but-certain challenger. “I won the election,” Biden said of 2020. “And he was a loser.”
He said other world leaders have approached him with concerns about the impact of another Trump term, and he recounted in detail Trump’s encouragement of the Jan. 6 rioters, calling it “among the worst derelictions of duty by a president in American history.” He added, “He still doesn’t understand a basic truth, and that is you can’t love your country only when you win.”
He also asked voters to step up to support democracy. “We all know who Donald Trump is. The question we have to answer is, ‘Who are we?’”
Biden spent considerable time describing details of what occurred three years ago — calling Jan. 6 a day “that we nearly lost America” — and took aim at the way Trump is now attempting to recast the events of that day. “Trump is trying to steal history the same way he tried to steal the election,” he said. “We saw it with our own eyes. Trump’s mob wasn’t a peaceful protest. It was a violent assault. They were insurrectionists, not patriots.”
Biden advisers said the speech was intended as “the opening salvo for this campaign,” depicting events that occurred three centuries ago as well as three years ago to tie Biden’s reelection run to the sweep of American history, while depicting Trump’s comeback bid as a rebellion against that history.
“When the attack on January 6th happened, there was no doubt about the truth,” Biden said. “As time has gone on, politics, fear, money — all have intervened. And now these MAGA voices who know the truth about Trump on January 6th have abandoned the truth and abandoned democracy. They made their choice. Now the rest of us — Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans — we have to make our choice.”
Trump in recent months has increasingly cast the assault on the Capitol as a heroic action intended to upend an unfair election, a portrait that is not based in reality. He has also sought, without foundation, to blame Biden for the numerous criminal charges Trump now faces, saying the current president is the true threat to democracy.
In a speech on Friday evening in Sioux Center, Iowa, Trump called Biden’s earlier speech a “pathetic, fearmongering campaign event.” Referencing a speaking impediment Biden had as a child, Trump said incorrectly that Biden “was stuttering through the whole thing.”
“He’s saying I’m a threat to democracy,” Trump said. “‘He’s a threat to d-d-democracy.’ Couldn’t read the word.”
Later in the speech, Trump expressed sympathy for Jan. 6 rioters, calling their imprisonment “one of the saddest things in the history of our country.”
NYT (“Biden Condemns Trump as Dire Threat to Democracy in a Blistering Speech“):
President Biden on Friday delivered a ferocious condemnation of Donald J. Trump, his likely 2024 opponent, warning in searing language that the former president had directed an insurrection and would aim to undo the nation’s bedrock democracy if he returned to power.
On the eve of the third anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by Mr. Trump’s supporters, Mr. Biden framed the coming election as a choice between a candidate devoted to upholding America’s centuries-old ideals and a chaos agent willing to discard them for his personal benefit.
“There’s no confusion about who Trump is or what he intends to do,” Mr. Biden warned in a speech at a community college not far from Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, where George Washington commanded troops during the Revolutionary War. Exhorting supporters to prepare to vote this fall, he said: “We all know who Donald Trump is. The question is: Who are we?”
In an intensely personal address that at one point nearly led Mr. Biden to curse Mr. Trump by name, the president compared his rival to foreign autocrats who rule by fiat and lies. He said Mr. Trump had failed the basic test of American leaders, to trust the people to choose their elected officials and abide by their decisions.
“We must be clear,” Mr. Biden said. “Democracy is on the ballot. Your freedom is on the ballot.”
The harshness of Mr. Biden’s attack on his rival illustrated both what his campaign believes to be the stakes of the 2024 election and his perilous political standing. Confronted with low approval ratings, bad head-to-head polling against Mr. Trump, worries about his age and lingering unease with the economy, Mr. Biden is turning increasingly to the figure who has proved to be Democrats’ single best motivator.
Mr. Trump, speaking at a campaign rally in Iowa soon after Mr. Biden’s appearance, quickly lashed back, calling the president’s comments “pathetic fearmongering” and accusing him of “abusing George Washington’s legacy.”
BBC (“Biden slams Trump for Capitol riot in 2024 campaign speech“):
In his first campaign speech of 2024, President Joe Biden cast his likely election opponent, Donald Trump, as a fundamental threat to American democracy.
“Whether democracy is still America’s sacred cause is the most urgent question of our time,” Mr Biden said.
“It’s what the 2024 election is all about,” he added.
Mr Trump labelled the speech “pathetic fear mongering” and called Mr Biden the threat to democracy.
“Biden’s record is an unbroken streak of weakness, incompetence, corruption and failure,” said the former president at a rally in the state of Iowa.
Mr Biden’s speech saw him returning to a theme he has invoked over and over in recent years.
This time, he explicitly drew a line to the 6 January 2021 attack on the US Capitol to make his case.
That day, Mr Trump’s supporters violently stormed Congress to stop lawmakers from certifying the presidential election results for Mr Biden, just weeks before he was set to take office.
Mr Trump, the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, frequently repeats the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
The former president has also attempted to reframe the 6 January attack as a “beautiful day.” He has referred to the individuals who participated as “patriots” and political prisoners, and vowed to pardon them if he returns to the White House.
Taking direct aim at this rhetoric, Mr Biden accused Mr Trump of trying to “steal history”, attacking his rival by name repeatedly.
“Trump’s mob wasn’t a peaceful protest, it was a violent assault,” Mr Biden said. “They were insurrectionists, not patriots. They were not there to uphold the Constitution, they were there to destroy the Constitution.”
“He calls those who oppose him vermin. He talks about the blood of Americans being poisoned, echoing the same exact language used in Nazi Germany,” Mr Biden said.
I haven’t watched the speech and can’t comment on its delivery. I’ve read several reports on it and the transcription. It’s well-crafted, tying the sacrifices of the Continental Army at Valley Forge to the Capitol Riots and the future of American democracy. It pointedly contrasts George Washington’s patriotism and courage with Trump’s fecklessness and cowardice. And Biden’s concern for his country and its future with Trump’s self-centeredness and obsession with the past.
It’s a powerful statement of the stark choice voters face in November.
Alas, I’m skeptical that it will resonate with the undecided voters in swing states who will decide the election. Granting that most of them have not been paying anything like the degree of attention to the political news that those reading this and I have over the last three years, it’s hard to imagine the sentient citizen who has yet to form a strong opinion about who won the 2020 election or about the events of January 6, 2021, much less will have the scales fall from their eyes because of this speech.
Now, I can imagine the Democratic voter who is disillusioned with Biden and flirting with voting for a third party candidate being somewhat galvanized by this reminder of the stakes. Even there, though, I suspect it would be more effective to remind them of the sort of policies Trump would enact in a second term than making this an election about democracy itself.
Then again, this is the most unusual election in any of our lifetimes.
Historically, Americans have been unusual compared to citizens of other Western democracies, tending to vote retrospectively rather than prospectively. Under ordinary circumstances, this puts Biden at a severe disadvantage, in that he’s been quite unpopular for most of his term and Americans are particularly unhappy with the economy. But, as AEI’s Matthew Continetti reminds us, 2024 will be the first election since 1888 pitting an incumbent President against a former President. (He terms this a “two-incumbent election.”)
The precedent of 1892 is so distant that it hardly seems relevant. Our two-incumbent election is a genuine novelty. It pits a twice-impeached, criminally charged Republican against a deeply unpopular Democrat who faces his own impeachment inquiry and whose adult son is under federal indictment. All set against the backdrop of collapsing public trust, deteriorating world order, resurgent antisemitism, the interpenetration of the judicial system with domestic elections, myriad connections between former and current national-security personnel and the major media “echo chamber,” America’s aggressive and cunning strategic adversaries, the legitimation of political violence, and a likelihood of constitutional crisis and domestic unrest. Harrison-Cleveland was placid by comparison. Even boring.
If this were a one-incumbent race that pitted Biden against a fresh Republican, Biden would be on his way to a landslide defeat. He begins 2024 with the lowest approval ratings of any modern president. Voters say that he is too old for the job, that things are “out of control,” and that he has made their lives worse. The Biden campaign has spent tens of millions of dollars in television advertising across swing states to counter these negative attitudes. The ads have had no effect. On the contrary: Biden’s position has worsened. Core Democratic constituencies — Hispanic voters, black voters, and 18- to 35-year-old voters — have turned against him.
Yet Biden has a chance. The Democratic coalition may be fracturing, but its pieces are not joining the GOP. Instead, disaffected Democrats are saying that they will stay home or that they will support RFK Jr. or Cornel West — if either man makes it onto state ballots.
Normally, a splintered electorate and a collapse in enthusiasm for the incumbent benefits the challenger. Not when the challenger is another incumbent. Not when that other incumbent is Donald Trump. The former president may be ahead, but his lead is narrow and within the margin of error.
Pollster Bill McInturff found that, unlike recent presidential contests, 2024 will be more about the challenger than the incumbent. In 2004, 61 percent of voters said their votes were more about George W. Bush than John Kerry. In 2012, 66 percent said their votes were more about Barack Obama than Mitt Romney. The 2020 election was more about Trump than about Biden, who was in his basement. And yet 57 percent of voters say their vote in 2024 will be more about Trump than about President Biden.
If that’s right—and it strikes me as plausible—then Biden’s strategy here may well be sound. Even so, I think focusing on Trump’s cowardice and dangerous rhetoric during this campaign cycle is likely to be more persuasive than vague talk about “democracy.”