Biden earns plaudits from progressives after anti-Trump speech

Progressives say President Biden finally used his words.

Democrats who have wanted the president to go hard against conservatives ahead of the midterms are praising his speech Thursday, in which he blasted “MAGA Republicans” and suggested former President Trump and those aligned with him pose “a threat to this country.”

While Biden has signaled over the past week or more that he plans to escalate his rhetoric against the GOP heading into Labor Day and the post-holiday sprint to November, liberals are cheering the tactic as long overdue — even if its impact is uncertain.

“He was just calling out the truth,” said Vicki Miller, who leads the Philadelphia chapter of the grassroots group Indivisible. “The voters I talk to at the doors here in Pennsylvania, they all see what’s happening.”

“If the president had sugarcoated what he’d said, they’d see it as politician-speak,” she said. “President Biden is just saying what a lot of these voters already know: that everything is on the line.”

Biden’s address from Independence Hall set into rapid motion the countdown to the fall, when Democrats say democracy itself will be fought over in critical races, with several Republican candidates running explicitly on messaging that denies the results of the last presidential election.

“MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution,” Biden said during his prime-time speech, one of just a handful that he has delivered during his first term in office. “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.”

Leading up to the event, administration officials said the speech was meant to send a message to all Americans, not just their own side. The White House circulated excerpts in advance that used language stressing personal responsibility for helping to protect the country’s existing governing rules and contended that there are forces working in the other direction.

After he spoke, many Democrats were relieved that Biden used the bully pulpit to address their top concern and argued that it may have also provided a useful boost to the base.

“He set the table for the midterms in a way that frames it perfectly for Democrats,” said Michael Starr Hopkins, a veteran Democratic campaign strategist. “Either we defeat Trump and his acolytes or democracy as we know it is over.”

Biden had been in a slump for much of the spring and summer, with a series of problems creating a dark cloud over his presidency. But after a run of recent legislative and executive successes, things started to turn around for the incumbent leader, giving what Democrats hope are incentives to come out and vote for his party’s slate in the fall.

The speech, timed to the unofficial kickoff to the final dash to the general election, helped crystallize Biden’s commitment to the public, country and office he serves, some Democrats said, not just to spotlight more traditional issues like the economy.

“This isn’t a policy debate,” said Starr Hopkins. “This is a debate about who we are as a country and where we want to go moving forward. Biden and his White House finally understand that. You see it in his rhetoric, you see it in the White House social media account, but most importantly you feel it in his words.”

Those who argued Biden needs to be harsher toward the Trump wing of the opposing party, which includes both rank-and-file members and lawmakers who explicitly sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election, are counting on voters responding to a leader who stands up for their basic guaranteed rights.

The failure of the 50-50 Senate to pass voting rights legislation last year was a gut punch to many liberal lawmakers and activists who warned about the imminent threat that could come as soon as the next elections. And absent those legislative protections, Democrats see the sharper rhetoric from the president as at least a step in the right direction.

It comes as he transitions from hashing out the more granular details of his policy agenda on Capitol Hill to becoming the top surrogate for the Democratic Party on the campaign trail.

“No one speech is going to decide the midterms,” said Eddie Vale, a Democratic operative and partner at New Paradigm Agency. “But that speech and the issue of democracy is not just about governance. We are also seeing that there are a lot of independents and Republicans who see it as an important issue in the election.”

Biden, a lifelong moderate, attempted to differentiate the most fervent right-wing strain of the GOP that supports white nationalism and seeks to invalidate elections from Republicans he admires and has in some cases worked with across the aisle for decades. The latter camp ranges from moderate officeholders to people who may check “R” on their voter registration but who gave the current president a chance to defeat Trump last cycle.

For all his effort to balance the harshness with unity, many Republicans interpreted the speech differently. They criticized Biden for what they saw as grandstanding and not getting at the core issues of the country, including the cost of living and crime.

Some even sought to frame the dramatic backdrop Biden’s advance team chose to frame the president — dark, shadowy red lights and an American flag between uniformed Marines — as reminiscent of a grim time in world history under authoritarianism.

Conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson, a staunch Biden critic who regularly praises the Trump movement, went as far as to say that the Democratic president was evoking imagery of Nazis, while attempting to defend those in the MAGA movement who he said the president sees as problematic.

“Yeah, they’re a threat, says the guy with the blood-red Nazi background and Marines standing behind him,” Carlson said. “It’s totally immoral.”

On Friday, Democrats weren’t as concerned with Republicans’ assertions. Some pointed to the escalating problems in Trump World, which came to the surface after the FBI entered the former president’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida during an ongoing investigation, as more motivating for their own base.

While that is happening, Trump, too, is hitting the trail, campaigning and endorsing candidates that fit his own vision for the country. Over the holiday weekend, he’ll be in Pennsylvania, setting up perhaps the starkest contrast to date between the two former presidential rivals in the state that Biden narrowly won.

Two critical races there are likely to serve as a temperature check on where voters stand. Mehmet Oz, the Republican Party’s Senate nominee, and Doug Mastriano, who is running for governor, have both adopted Trump’s ideology, while the Democratic candidates skew more towards the progressive side of their party.

“The midterms are Round 2 in the fight between Biden and Trump,” said Starr Hopkins. “The current president is hitting his stride while the former president could be dictated any day now.”

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