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Joe Biden’s MAGA Speech Was A Total Disaster

US President Joe Biden. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
US President Joe Biden. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

President Joe Biden delivered an impassioned speech about the state of American democracy and the Republican Party. While there was merit to some of it, his remarks were marred by contradictions.

Is this a nonpartisan defense of democracy or a partisan political exercise to win the midterm elections? Biden called on all Americans to join together “regardless of your ideology” to reject extremism, violence, and the refusal to accept election results when the opposition wins.

The president asked “Democrats, independents, and mainstream Republicans” to “be stronger, more determined, and more committed to saving American democracy than MAGA Republicans are to destroying American democracy.”

“For a long time, we’ve reassured ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed, but it is not,” Biden said at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. “We have to defend it, protect it, stand up for it. Each and every one of us.”

But Joe Biden also gave a straightforwardly partisan campaign speech, explicitly touting his own policies and somewhat more implicitly urging votes for Democrats in the upcoming elections. His appeared in a swing state, with competitive races for governor and Senate, for the second time this week, with plans to return over Labor Day weekend. 

“Democrats are betting that making Trump a central theme of the midterms will hurt Republicans’ chances of winning back control of Congress,” Axios reported.

“White House officials said the president has been planning this speech for a while, and it will not be focused on the news of the day,” reported CBS News. “White House officials also say it will kick off the president’s campaign season ahead of the midterm elections.”

To the “Never Trump Means Never Republican” crowd, there is no contradiction here. But a movement either transcends party lines, or it doesn’t. Democracy either means letting the chips fall where they may, or it means power for one party or candidate. 

Is MAGA at odds with mainstream Republicanism, or is it defining the GOP? “Not every Republican, not even a majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans,” Biden assured his listeners. “Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology.”

“But there’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans,” he added. “And that is a threat to this country.”

So does that mean Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who accepted the election results, rejected Trump’s voter fraud claims, criticized the 45th president’s actions on Jan. 6 and held him “practically and morally responsible” for the attack on the Capitol is a mainstream Republican and traditional conservative? Or does his failure to convict Trump in the second impeachment trial or willingness to support Trump if nominated mean he is “dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans?”

When asked to name non-MAGA Republicans, the White House seldom has much to say beyond Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a blue-state moderate who is term-limited out of office.

Is this about Jan. 6 and refusal to concede elections or broader policy disagreements with conservative Republicans? Biden devoted much of his speech to 2020 conspiracy theories and the Capitol riot, saying he would “not stand by and watch elections in this country be stolen by people who simply refuse to accept that they lost.”

But then he also argued that MAGA was responsible for policy disagreements on abortion and other issues where many Republicans held their current views for decades before Trump was involved in politics (and before Trump held socially conservative positions himself). “MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards,” Joe 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.”

This is a standard liberal stump speech line, consistent with polling showing that fear of Trump and anger over Roe v. Wade being overturned are the big Democratic motivators this fall.

Is this about marginalizing Trump and his allies or elevating them? Biden is highlighting his once and perhaps future opponent, whom his Justice Department is investigating for serious allegations, in an election where Trump is not on the ballot. This election cycle has been replete with examples of Democrats helping to prop up MAGA candidates, including helping to bump off a Republican congressman who accepted the election results and actually did vote to impeach Trump over Jan. 6.

Joe Biden himself has repeatedly said he would be “very fortunate” to face Trump in 2024 and that he would be even more likely to run for a second term if Trump was his opponent again.

The White House, which spent six months working with the Center for American Progress to come up with the “ultra MAGA” label, has to know that this helps Trump stay bonded with the GOP base.

Do norms matter or only when Trump and Republicans violate them? “We have to be honest with each other and ourselves: Too much of what is happening in our country today is not normal,” Joe Biden said. But look at the backdrop of this “official speech.”

“There’s nothing unusual or wrong with a President delivering a political speech — it’s inherent in the job description — but doing it against a backdrop of two Marines standing at attention and the Marine Band is a break with White House traditions,” tweeted CNN’s Jeff Zeleny. 

“Like or loathe what he said tonight, it should be noted: The president spoke tonight on the grounds of a national park, flanked by US Marines, and took direct, specific aim at his predecessor and members of the Republican Party,” tweeted CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe. “Another thing we don’t see everyday.”

Trump was criticized for accepting the 2020 Republican nomination at the White House, among other things.

The calls for an anti-MAGA political movement often fail to grapple with whether Trump’s 2020 “stop the steal” maneuvers were actually a radical escalation of the norms around accepting presidential election results beginning to break down in 2000, when five of seven presidential losers to varying degrees maintained they won the election after the fact before running out of options to contest the results. 

Trump went beyond any legally plausible path for challenging the election, had no credible evidence for his wilder claims, and the end result was a violent and deadly attack on the Capitol. But he’s not the only one who has suggested elections under rules he disagrees with may be rigged.

“I’m not going to say it’s going to be legit,” Joe Biden told a reporter when asked what his criticisms of red state voting laws meant for the legitimacy of the midterms. 

Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, James Antle III is the Washington Examiner’s politics editor. He was previously managing editor of the Daily Caller, associate editor of the American Spectator, and Editor of the American Conservative. He is the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?

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W. James Antle III is the Washington Examiner's politics editor. He was previously managing editor of the Daily Caller, associate editor of the American Spectator, and senior writer for the American Conservative. He is the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?