Biden: MAGA Republicans Threaten Republic
The President delivered a rousing stump speech from Independence Hall.
I was only barely aware that President Biden was giving a prime time speech last night and had forgotten about it by the time he did. It was, apparently, quite a doozy.
WaPo (“Biden warns U.S. faces powerful threat from anti-democratic forces“):
President Biden delivered a forceful address Thursday on what he called a dangerous assault on American democracy, warning that “too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal” as “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”
Biden’s speech, outside Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, was a remarkable assessment from a sitting president that the fabric of American governance is under serious threat — “we do ourselves no favors to pretend otherwise,” he said. While Biden did not name Republicans other than the former president, he warned of election deniers who have won Republican primaries and those who have sought to overturn legitimate elections.
“We are still at our core a democracy — yet history tells us that blind loyalty to a single leader, and the willingness to engage in political violence, is fatal to democracy,” Biden said. “There is no question that the Republican Party is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans.”
Biden on Thursday appeared to seek a balance between the lofty tones of a presidential address and the sharp, personal criticism of Republicans that many in his party believe is necessary to meet a moment of crisis. While paying tribute to the country’s grand historical traditions, Biden also suggested the upcoming election is a battle between those embracing American values and those trying to destroy them.
White House officials stressed repeatedly that Biden’s speech was not political, saying the defense of democracy is hardly a partisan topic. While Biden did criticize Republicans, he made it clear he was only attacking what he called “MAGA Republicans,” a reference to those who are loyal to Trump and his false claims of rigged elections.
Staff writer Amber Phillips:
Biden isn’t trying to come across as partisan when he talks about democracy, a senior White House official told reporters earlier in the day — and he would not try to persuade the public to vote for his party.
And no matter what the president said tonight, it was probably inevitable that this speech would be received as partisan. Republican candidates far more frequently deny election results than Democrats. Biden has been out in front with his party in talking about this, with sharp language that made even some Democrats flinch. “It’s like semi-fascism,” he said on the campaign trail recently, of the ethos he says underlies the right wing of the Republican Party.
That has given Republicans an opening to attack him as overreaching with his warnings about the state of democracy. Right before the president’s address, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Biden should first apologize to Trump supporters “for slandering tens of millions of Americans as ‘fascists.’ “
Instead of shying away from that kind of language, Biden mentioned his potential 2024 opponent by name.
Though the president did take care to say there are “mainstream Republicans” who do not subscribe to an “extreme ideology” — a line that drew applause — he also continued: “There’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans.”
He went on to tie what he called “MAGA Republicans” to many GOP state legislatures’ unpopular abortion bans, as well as to the most conservative Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, who suggested in his recent abortion opinion that the court could roll back same-sex marriage rights.
“MAGA Republicans want to take America backwards, backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love,” Biden said.
NPR’s Domenico Montanaro observes, “Biden’s speech walks a fine line in its attack on MAGA Republicans.”
Lots of his candidates have won contentious primaries; he’s consolidated his base; and his renewed presence has threatened to make the November elections a choice rather than a referendum on President Biden.
Biden and the White House leaned into that Thursday night with an unusual prime-time address that broke no news or made any big announcements. Instead, Biden took the opportunity to elevate Trump and make it a choice between what Biden and Democrats stand for and MAGA Republican extremism, as he sees it, and their rising influence in positions of power throughout the country.
Elections, especially midterm elections, are traditionally a check on the president. Inflation is high, Biden is unpopular and people are pessimistic about the direction of the country. That usually would mean a wipeout in a president’s first midterm.
So this gave Biden an opportunity to deflect from that – and lay out a choice.
“MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards,” Biden said, “backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.”
He highlighted threats to democracy as being urgent and instigated by Trump. Biden doesn’t often use Trump’s name, but he name-checked him three times in this speech. And when you do that, it’s going to look and sound political. And that was obviously intentional.
With Trump back in the news, it offered Biden a way to elevate him, hold him up as the standard-bearer of the GOP, what it stands for, and draw a line in the sand.
“It’s pretty clear they want to amplify the MAGA message,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “Almost feels like a pre-argument against what a Republican House might be pushing for the next two years, setting up a broader narrative about how he is fighting to stop Republicans from anti-democratic moves.”
In a column written before the speech was delivered, former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen goes much further, exclaiming that “Biden is disgracing the institution of the prime-time presidential address.” After a long discussion about the serious topics such speeches have been devoted to in recent years, he observes,
Biden is the only president in more than four decades to ask the major news networks to preempt their prime-time programming just weeks before an election and broadcast a campaign speech whose stated purpose is to attack the opposition party.
For the sitting president to commandeer the institution of a prime-time presidential address — one that has been employed by his predecessors to comfort us in tragedy, announce military action and make the case for policy initiatives of great consequence — and use it to for partisan attacks is not a legitimate use of such a forum.
There’s simply no excuse for networks to give Biden free airtime for this speech — much less to do so without giving Republicans equal time to respond. If Biden wants to deliver a prime-time campaign ad attacking Republicans, he should have to pay for it.
I’m inclined to agree. But also torn.
The job of the President is inherently political and separating politics from partisanship is next to impossible in this era. Taking to the airwaves to tout his own legislative successes or urge the passage of stalled bills would naturally be seen as stumping but would still be within the normal bounds of these speeches. Biden went well beyond policy advocacy, though, and essentially delivered a 30-minute campaign ad. And networks have, going back to the first year of the George W. Bush presidency, refused to carry speeches that were deemed either insufficiently newsworthy or electioneering.
At the same time, this is an extension of a problem that’s been ongoing since at least the inauguration of Donald Trump if not his campaign: rules designed for normal times and normal politicians don’t work well in extraordinary circumstances. Declaring that Trump and those who aid and abet him are a threat to the Republic is both hyperpartisan grandstanding unbefitting a prime-time presidential address and undeniably true.
Similarly, this is both electioneering* and a call for a return to normalcy:
MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people.
They refuse to accept the results of a free election. And they’re working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself.
MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards — backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.
They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.
They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on January 6th — brutally attacking law enforcement — not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger to the throat of our democracy, but they look at them as patriots.
And they see their MAGA failure to stop a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election as preparation for the 2022 and 2024 elections.
They tried everything last time to nullify the votes of 81 million people. This time, they’re determined to succeed in thwarting the will of the people.
Still, at the end of the day, this is a campaign speech, not a prime-time presidential address. He’s not stumping for election reform or other policy changes to strengthen democracy. Rather, he’s calling on Americans to vote for Democrats rather than Republicans.
His close is very much a stump speech:
I want to say as clearly as we can: We are not powerless in the face of these threats. We are not bystanders in this ongoing attack on democracy.
There are far more Americans — far more Americans from every — from every background and belief who reject the extreme MAGA ideology than those that accept it. (Applause.)
And, folks, it is within our power, it’s in our hands — yours and mine — to stop the assault on American democracy.
I believe America is at an inflection point — one of those moments that determine the shape of everything that’s to come after.
And now America must choose: to move forward or to move backwards? To build the future or obsess about the past? To be a nation of hope and unity and optimism, or a nation of fear, division, and of darkness?
MAGA Republicans have made their choice. They embrace anger. They thrive on chaos. They live not in the light of truth but in the shadow of lies.
But together — together, we can choose a different path. We can choose a better path. Forward, to the future. A future of possibility. A future to build and dream and hope.
And we’re on that path, moving ahead.
I know this nation. I know you, the American people. I know your courage. I know your hearts. And I know our history.
This is a nation that honors our Constitution. We do not reject it. (Applause.)
This is a nation that believes in the rule of law. We do not repudiate it. (Applause.)
This is a nation that respects free and fair elections. We honor the will of the people. We do not deny it. (Applause.)
And this is a nation that rejects violence as a political tool. We do not encourage violence.
We are still an America that believes in honesty and decency and respect for others, patriotism, liberty, justice for all, hope, possibilities.
We are still, at our core, a democracy. (Applause.)
And yet history tells us that blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy.
For a long time, we’ve told ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed, but it’s not.
We have to defend it, protect it, stand up for it — each and every one of us.
That’s why tonight I’m asking our nation to come together, unite behind the single purpose of defending our democracy regardless of your ideology. (Applause.)
We’re all called, by duty and conscience, to confront extremists who will put their own pursuit of power above all else.
Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans: We must be stronger, more determined, and more committed to saving American democracy than MAGA Republicans are to — to destroying American democracy.
We, the people, will not let anyone or anything tear us apart. Today, there are dangers around us we cannot allow to prevail. We hear — you’ve heard it — more and more talk about violence as an acceptable political tool in this country. It’s not. It can never be an acceptable tool.
So I want to say this plain and simple: There is no place for political violence in America. Period. None. Ever. (Applause.)
We saw law enforcement brutally attacked on January the 6th. We’ve seen election officials, poll workers — many of them volunteers of both parties — subjected to intimidation and death threats. And — can you believe it? — FBI agents just doing their job as directed, facing threats to their own lives from their own fellow citizens.
On top of that, there are public figures — today, yesterday, and the day before — predicting and all but calling for mass violence and rioting in the streets.
This is inflammatory. It’s dangerous. It’s against the rule of law. And we, the people, must say: This is not who we are. (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, we can’t be pro-ex- — pro-ex- — pro-insurrectionist and pro-American. They’re incompatible. (Applause.)
We can’t allow violence to be normalized in this country. It’s wrong. We each have to reject political violence with — with all the moral clarity and conviction this nation can muster. Now.
We can’t let the integrity of our elections be undermined, for that is a path to chaos.
Look, I know poli- — politics can be fierce and mean and nasty in America. I get it. I believe in the give-and-take of politics, in disagreement and debate and dissent.
We’re a big, complicated country. But democracy endures only if we, the people, respect the guardrails of the republic. Only if we, the people, accept the results of free and fair elections. (Applause.) Only if we, the people, see politics not as total war but mediation of our differences.
Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election: either they win or they were cheated. And that’s where MAGA Republicans are today. (Applause.)
They don’t understand what every patriotic American knows: You can’t love your country only when you win. (Applause.) It’s fundamental.
American democracy only works only if we choose to respect the rule of law and the institutions that were set up in this chamber behind me, only if we respect our legitimate political differences.
I will not stand by and watch — I will not — the will of the American people be overturned by wild conspiracy theories and baseless, evidence-free claims of fraud.
I will not stand by and watch elections in this country stolen by people who simply refuse to accept that they lost. (Applause.)
I will not stand by and watch the most fundamental freedom in this country — the freedom to vote and have your vote counted — and — be taken from you and the American people. (Applause.)
Look, as your President, I will defend our democracy with every fiber of my being, and I’m asking every American to join me. (Applause.)
(A protestor disruption can be heard.)
Throughout our history, America has often made the greatest progress coming out of some of our darkest moments, like you’re hearing in that bullhorn.
I believe we can and we must do that again, and we are.
MAGA Republicans look at America and see carnage and darkness and despair. They spread fear and lies — lies told for profit and power.
But I see a very different America — an America with an unlimited future, an America that is about to take off. I hope you see it as well. Just look around.
I believed we could lift America from the depths of COVID, so we passed the largest economic recovery package since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And today, America’s economy is faster, stronger than any other advanced nation in the world. (Applause.) We have more to go.
I believed we could build a better America, so we passed the biggest infrastructure investment since President Dwight D. Eisenhower. And we’ve now embarked on a decade of rebuilding
the nation’s roads, bridges, highways, ports, water systems, high-speed Internet, railroads. (Applause.)
I believed we could make America safer, so we passed the most significant gun safety law since President Clinton. (Applause.)
I believed we could go from being the highest cost of prescriptions in the world to making prescription drugs and healthcare more affordable, so we passed the most significant healthcare reforms since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. (Applause.)
And I believed we could create — we could create a clean energy future and save the planet, so we passed the most important climate initiative ever, ever, ever. (Applause.)
The cynics and the critics tell us nothing can get done, but they are wrong. There is not a single thing America cannot do — not a single thing beyond our capacity if we do it together.
It’s never easy. But we’re proving that in America, no matter how long the road, progress does come. (Applause.)
Look, I know the last year — few years have been tough. But today, COVID no longer controls our lives. More Americans are working than ever. Businesses are growing. Our schools are open. Millions of Americans have been lifted out of poverty. Millions of veterans once exposed to toxic burn pits will now get what they deserve for their families and the compa- — compensation. (Applause.)
American manufacturing has come alive across the Heartland, and the future will be made in America — (applause) — no matter what the white supremacists and the extremists say.
I made a bet on you, the American people, and that bet is paying off. Proving that from darkness — the darkness of Charlottesville, of COVID, of gun violence, of insurrection — we can see the light. Light is now visible. (Applause.)
Light that will guide us forward not only in words, but in actions — actions for you, for your children, for your grandchildren, for America.
Even in this moment, with all the challenges we face, I give you my word as a Biden: I’ve never been more optimistic about America’s future. Not because of me, but because of who you are.
We’re going to end cancer as we know it. Mark my words. (Applause.)
We are going to create millions of new jobs in a clean energy economy.
We’re going to think big. We’re going to make the 21st century another American century because the world needs us to. (Applause.)
That’s where we need to focus our energy — not in the past, not on divisive culture wars, not on the politics of grievance, but on a future we can build together.
The MAGA Republicans believe that for them to succeed, everyone else has to fail. They believe America — not like I believe about America.
I believe America is big enough for all of us to succeed, and that is the nation we’re building: a nation where no one is left behind.
I ran for President because I believed we were in a battle for the soul of this nation. I still believe that to be true. I believe the soul is the breath, the life, and the essence of who we are. The soul is what makes us “us.”
The soul of America is defined by the sacred proposition that all are created equal in the image of God. That all are entitled to be treated with decency, dignity, and respect. That all deserve justice and a shot at lives of prosperity and consequence. And that democracy — democracy must be defended, for democracy makes all these things possible. (Applause.) Folks, and it’s up to us.
Democracy begins and will be preserved in we, the people’s, habits of heart, in our character: optimism that is tested
yet endures, courage that digs deep when we need it, empathy that fuels democracy, the willingness to see each other not as enemies but as fellow Americans.
Look, our democracy is imperfect. It always has been.
Notwithstanding those folks you hear on the other side there. They’re entitled to be outrageous. This is a democracy. But history and common sense — (applause) — good manners is nothing they’ve ever suffered from.
But history and common sense tell us that opportunity, liberty, and justice for all are most likely to come to pass in a democracy.
We have never fully realized the aspirations of our founding, but every generation has opened those doors a little wider to include more people who have been excluded before.
My fellow Americans, America is an idea — the most powerful idea in the history of the world. And it beats in the hearts of the people of this country. It beats in all of our hearts. It unites America. It is the American creed.
The idea that America guarantees that everyone be treated with dignity. It gives hate no safe harbor. It installs in everyone the belief that no matter where you start in life, there’s nothing you can’t achieve.
That’s who we are. That’s what we stand for. That’s what we believe. And that is precisely what we are doing: opening doors, creating new possibilities, focusing on the future. And we’re only just beginning. (Applause.)
Our task is to make our nation free and fair, just and strong, noble and whole.
And this work is the work of democracy — the work of this generation. It is the work of our time, for all time.
We can’t afford to have — leave anyone on the sidelines. We need everyone to do their part. So speak up. Speak out. Get engaged. Vote, vote, vote. (Applause.)
And if we all do our duty — if we do our duty in 2022 and beyond, then ages still to come will say we — all of us here — we kept the faith. We preserved democracy. (Applause.) We heeded our wor- — we — we heeded not our worst instincts but our better angels. And we proved that, for all its imperfections, America is still the beacon to the world, an ideal to be realized, a promise to be kept.
There is nothing more important, nothing more sacred, nothing more American. That’s our soul. That’s who we truly are. And that’s who must — we must always be.
And I have no doubt — none — that this is who we will be and that we’ll come together as a nation. That we’ll secure our democracy. That for the next 200 years, we’ll have what we had the past 200 years: the greatest nation on the face of the Earth.
We just need to remember who we are. We are the United States of America. The United States of America. (Applause.)
And may God protect our nation. And may God protect all those who stand watch over our democracy. God bless you all. (Applause.) Democracy. Thank you. (Applause.)
It’s a very good stump speech. As written, it’s perhaps the best one Biden has ever given. I hope it’s an effective one. But an attack on the opposition party and a call to vote for Democrats is not what Presidential addresses to the nation are supposed to be.
*The case that this is about preserving democracy and not politics would have been strengthened by omitting the line “MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards — backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.” Aside from being hyperbolic, much of this is mainstream conservatism—and believed in by not insignificant numbers of Democrats—rather than something uniquely MAGA.