TThe gym in Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) was jammed on Tuesday by a large crowd of local supporters and friends when Joe Biden began his attack on the GOP. “Let me say this to my MAGA Republican friends in Congress: don’t tell me you support law enforcement if you won’t condemn what happened on the 6th,” Biden said, referring to the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. “You can’t be pro-law enforcement and pro-insurrection.”
Then he took a swipe at senior Republican lawmakers who have warned that the Justice Department’s investigation into Donald Trump’s hoarding of government documents could trigger a violent reaction from Trump supporters. “No one expects politics to be paddycake— sometimes it’s mean as hell,” said Biden. “But the idea you turn on a television and see senior senators and congressmen saying, ‘If such and such happens there’ll be blood on the street’? Where the hell are we?”
The speech was emblematic of a new, sharper tone from Biden, who ran for President two years ago promising to unite the country, but has begun devoting more of his time to warning about the dangers of a Republican Party that remains largely under Trump’s spell.
On Thursday night, Biden will deliver a prime-time speech about the threat posed by “MAGA Republicans” and public officials denying the outcomes of elections. He’ll paint the mid-term elections as a broader contest over those who believe in the American democratic system, and those who want to tear it down in their own pursuit of power.
It’s a preview of a key message Democrats are expected to impress upon the public in the coming weeks, as campaigning gears up for races that could see Republicans winning back control of one or both chambers of Congress.
Biden’s senior advisors acknowledge that midterm elections, which millions of voters typically skip, are won with anger. Many Democrats felt angry this summer at Republican-led restrictions that restricted abortion access in some states. This was after Roe v. Wade was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in June. A motivating factor is the resistance of GOP members to tighter gun control laws following school shootings.
But the state of the country’s democracy is also drawing more voter interest, recent polls suggest. Speaking last week at a Democratic National Committee event hosted at the home of a wealthy supporter in Bethesda, Md., Biden said he chose to run for President in part because of the divisiveness he saw Donald Trump stoking in the public arena and wanted to help “restore the soul of this country” by promoting “dignity,” “honor, making sure we — you mean what you say,” and “treating people with respect.” But those strains of Trumpism, amplified by hatred and misinformation, have not gone away. “What we’re seeing now is either the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy,” Biden said. “It’s not just Trump,” he went on, “it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the—I’m going to say something: It’s like semi-fascism.”
Republicans quickly rejected this label. Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu said Biden was “trying to stir up this anti-Republican sentiment right before the election.” He called on the President to apologize. “It’s horribly inappropriate, it’s insulting, and people should be insulted by it,” Sununu said.
Biden’s closest aides acknowledge there’s a balance to strike. The President shouldn’t sound sharp and angry all the time. He has scheduled several weeks of travel across the country to tout his administration’s investments in improving infrastructure, improving clean energy technologies, and lowering prescription medicines for seniors.
Biden’s approval ratings among Americans, while still low, have ticked up slightly to the low 40s from the high 30s in July. His party’s prospects of holding on to control of the Senate and stemming their anticipated losses in the House have improved as well. The Democrats have been trailing Republicans in the polls since January on a generic ballot for Congress. However, they have now matched up with the GOP in almost all polls.
Biden hopes to draw a contrast between his administration’s approach to governing—passing major bills on climate change, health care, and infrastructure investment—to the Republican push back.
It’s a strategy the administration does not intend to limit to Biden’s words. In social media posts, the White House press office took a more aggressive tone. Last week, when Republican politicians criticized Biden’s student loan forgiveness actions as unfair, the White House Twitter account fired back at several of them directly by highlighting the size of the loan their own businesses had forgiven under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program during the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic slowdown. The online taunts were a departure for the otherwise staid official account and coincided with the White House hiring Megan Coyne from New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s office, where she gained attention for using quick responses and wit to build a massive audience for the governor’s Twitter account.
“We’ve never hesitated to call out hypocrisy, and we’re not going to stop now,” Alexandra LaManna, a White House assistant press secretary, said in a statement.
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