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Democrats have gained momentum this election cycle with victories in several special elections, following the Supreme Court’s ruling reversal of Roe vs. Wade.
And the FBI Former President Trump’s Florida home raided pushed Trump back into the spotlight, front and center. Many of its candidates have won controversial primaries; he consolidated his base; and his renewed presence has threatened to make the November election 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 which gave no news or made big announcements. Instead, Biden has taken the opportunity to elevate Trump and make it a choice between what Biden and the Democrats stand for and MAGA Republican extremism, as he sees it, and their growing influence in leadership positions. power across the country.
“I believe America is at an inflection point,” the president said outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the same city where he launched his 2020 presidential campaign, “one of those defining moments. the shape of everything that’s to come. And now America must choose whether to move forward or back.”
On the eve of Labor Day weekend, the traditional linchpin of the general election final sprint across the country, here are three takeaways from Biden’s speech:
1. Biden tried to reinforce the idea that this election is a choice, not a referendum… on him
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 would usually mean annihilation in a president’s first midterm.
So that gave Biden an opportunity to deviate from it — and make a choice.
“MAGA forces are determined to take this country back,” Biden said, “back to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry whoever you love.”
He stressed that the threats to democracy were urgent and initiated by Trump. Biden doesn’t use Trump’s name often, but he checked it three times in this speech. And when you do that, it will 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, which he represents, and draw a line in the sand.
“It’s pretty clear that they want to amplify the MAGA message,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “It almost feels like a pre-pitch against what a Republican House might push for the next two years, setting up a larger narrative about how he’s fighting to keep Republicans from taking anti- democratic.”
2. It may have been a political speech, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t real threats
You’d be forgiven if you mistake Biden’s speech for a convention speech, because that’s where you draw contrasts with your opponent and lay out a vision for the country.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t real or urgent threats. Holocaust deniers are closer to controlling elections in key places, and as we’ve said repeatedly watching the January 6 hearings, the institutions of democracy may have held in 2020, but only because of the people who ran them.
Today, many of these structures are run by people who support Trump and his election is up in the air.
We have seen political violence, the FBI faces threats, as do poll workers and local election officials. There is no doubt that the conspiratorial elements of Trumpism are more potentially operational now than they were before the 2020 presidential election.
“Democracy cannot survive when a party believes there are only two outcomes to an election – either it wins or it has been cheated,” Biden said.
And with the election two months away, the White House would argue that threat is key.
3. There is a degree of risk in Biden’s strategy
The Democrats’ recent momentum in multiple special elections is largely due to abortion rights, not necessarily threats to democracy.
Yes, a recent NBC poll showed that threats to democracy amounted to question #1, and that’s significant, because it topped the cost of living, which was second. But that was only with 21% of respondents. The economy-related items combined – cost of living, jobs and the economy – were 30% higher than threats to democracy.
Additionally, when you break down those who said threats to democracy were their top issue, 53% were Democrats, while 32% of Republicans and 11% of independents did so. And Democrats and Republicans certainly see “threats to democracy” very differently. Democrats obviously see Trump and “MAGA extremism” as a threat, while many Republicans, who believed Trump’s election lies, think Democrats and the (un)rigged election are the problems.
So the White House could be overstating the polls here.
Republicans, many of whom are now aligned with Trump, are furious.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy gave a speech before Biden spoke and said the president should apologize for what he saw as an insult to the millions of Americans who voted for Trump. .
It certainly shows the 180-degree turn McCarthy has made since Jan. 6 in his quest to become Speaker of the House. But it also highlights Biden’s high bar in trying to make it clear that he’s talking about elected Republicans, not voters.
“Not even a majority of Republicans are MAGA Republicans,” Biden said. “Not all Republicans embrace their extreme ideology. I know that because I have been able to work with these traditional Republicans. But there is no doubt that the Republican Party today is dominated, led, bullied by Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans. And that’s a threat to this country.”
It’s a very fine line for a president, who isn’t always astute with his words, to walk and stick to. The GOP will obviously use it to energize its base against Democrats and Biden midterm, but the White House is betting conservatives who don’t like it are already fired up — and Democrats need to keep their base engaged.
“There’s a risk of going overboard on this,” Payne said, “especially at a time when Republicans are hot on their heels trying to protect some 22-year anticipated midterm gains.”
But, he added, “I think it also helps to rejuvenate the base [with] moral clarity on safeguarding democracy.