PHILADELPHIA—President Joe Biden warned Thursday night that “equality and democracy are under assault” in the US as he sounded an alarm about his predecessor, Donald Trump, and “MAGA Republican” adherents, labeling them an extremist threat to the nation and its future.
Aiming to reframe the November elections as part of a battle for the nation’s soul—“the work of my presidency,” Biden used his prime-time speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to argue that Trump and “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA, allies are a challenge to nation’s system of government, its standing abroad and its citizens’ way of life.
“Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic,” Biden declared. He said they “are determined to take this country backward’ they “promote authoritarian leaders and they fan the flames of political violence.”
The explicit effort by Biden to marginalize Trump and his adherents marks a sharp turn for the president, who preached his desire to bring about national unity in his Inaugural Address. White House officials said it reflects his mounting concern about Trump allies’ ideological proposals and relentless denial of the nation’s 2020 election results.
“MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards,” Biden is saying, according to prepared remarks released by the White House. “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.”
“For a long time, we’ve reassured ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed. But it is not,” Biden says. “We have to defend it. Protect it. Stand up for it. Each and every one of us.”
Biden, who largely avoided even referring to “the former guy” by name during his first year in office, has grown increasingly vocal in calling out Trump personally.
Now, emboldened by his party’s recent legislative wins and wary of Trump’s return to the headlines, Biden is sharpening his attacks.
Trump plans a rally this weekend in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Biden’s birthplace.
At a Democratic fundraiser last week, Biden likened the “MAGA philosophy” to “semi-fascism.”
In Philadelphia, White House officials said, Biden intended to hark back to the 2017 white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, which he says brought him out of political retirement to challenge Trump. Biden argues that the country faces a similar crossroads in the coming months.
Biden allies stress that he is not rejecting the entirety of the GOP and is calling on traditional Republicans to join him in condemning Trump and his followers. It’s a balancing act, given that more than 74 million people voted for Trump in 2020.
“I respect conservative Republicans,” Biden said last week. “I don’t respect these MAGA Republicans.”
Delivering a preemptive rebuttal from Scranton Thursday evening, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy accused Biden of trying to divide Americans, and blasted the Democrats’ record in Washington, pointing to rising inflation, crime and government spending.
“In the past two years, Joe Biden has launched an assault on the soul of America, on its people, on its laws, on its most sacred values,” he said. “He has launched an assault on our democracy. His policies have severely wounded America’s soul, diminished America’s spirit and betrayed America’s trust.”
Asked about McCarthy’s criticism, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We understand we hit a nerve” with the GOP leader, and quoted the Republican’s prior statements, saying Trump bore responsibility for the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.
Larry Diamond, an expert on democracy and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, said calling Trump out for attacks on democracy “can be manipulated or framed as being partisan. And if you don’t call it out, you are shrinking from an important challenge in the defense of democracy.”