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New Biden midterm strategy over Democracy comes with risks

When Joe Biden entered the race for president in 2019, he declared that the “soul of the nation” was at stake.

Now Biden is amping up that narrative as president, making the case that democracy and former President Trump’s election lies will be on the ballot in this fall’s midterm elections.  

The new rhetoric makes sense politically. It gives Biden a chance to motivate Democrats into coming out to support the party in the midterms, when congressional majorities will be a stake.  

Yet it also comes with some risks, as it requires the president to drop the unifying tone that has been a big part of his first-term messaging.  

In castigating Trump and the Republicans aligned with him, Biden hopes to animate the Democratic Party’s liberal base while putting the former president on the ballot.  

It’s a strategy Democrats sought to use in Virginia in 2021, when the party lost the state’s governorship.  

The White House and Biden’s party are hoping for a better outcome this fall.  

Biden’s messaging has been elevated by the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence one month ago, which has dominated headlines ever since.  

The fight between Trump and the Department of Justice has worried Republicans, as it has given Democrats an opportunity to make the elections more about Trump.  

Democrats say the idea of protecting Democracy — and of casting Trump and his allies as threats to it — can be effective. Even if Trump is not on the ballot, Republicans closely tied to the ex-president, including Senate candidates Herschel Walker in Georgia, Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio, will be.   

“The idea that there are folks that are unfit to hold public office and should not be in power is an issue that can be layered over whatever other policy issues are at play,” said Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau.  

Polling suggests Biden could be on to something.  

A Quinnipiac University poll released late last month found that 67 percent of American adults believe U.S. democracy is in danger of collapsing, while an NBC News poll released the same month found that a larger percentage of voters ranked threats to democracy as the most important issue facing the country than did cost of living.  

Biden reintroduced the theme during a prime-time speech Thursday from Philadelphia, assailing Trump and Republicans aligned with him as threats to equality and democracy in the United States.  

“Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” Biden said, referring to the former president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.  

Biden carried forward that message in speeches from Milwaukee and Pittsburgh on Labor Day, arguing that democracy is at stake in the midterm elections. In Wisconsin, Biden accused Trump-aligned Republicans of embracing political violence and defending “the mob that stormed the Capitol” on Jan. 6, 2021. 

The theme is hardly brand new for Biden. In 2019, Biden said giving Trump eight years in the White House “will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are, and I cannot stand by and watch that happen.”  

Biden’s attack lines have been met with criticism from Republicans, including those who have rebuked Trump and his falsehoods about his 2020 election loss.  

Some have characterized Biden’s words as divisive and accused him of alienating a broad swath of voters who cast ballots for Trump during the last presidential election. 

“Biden is making the political bet that talking about Trump enough will rev up his base and help voters forget inflation and rising crime,” said Doug Heye, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “But despite being blue-collar Joe, he failed to try to bring in those people who may have only reluctantly voted for Trump because they felt the Democrats have moved too far left.” 

“And in just branding everything ‘MAGA Republicans,’ it regurgitates the same rhetoric they used to call Mitt Romney too extreme,” Heye added, pointing to a tweet sent from Biden’s presidential Twitter account that suggested “MAGA Republicans” are aligned with Wall Street interests.  

“What does that have to do with elections, democracy, Jan. 6?” Heye asked.  

Biden and other White House officials have defended his remarks, saying the president is distinguishing between “MAGA Republicans” and “mainstream” Republicans. 

Democrats say the narrative driven by Biden isn’t just tailored to the 2022 midterms. They say he’s offering a preview of shorts of his rhetoric in the upcoming presidential race as well. In recent months, Biden has said, both publicly and privately, that he plans to run for reelection in 2024. Trump is also weighing another bid for president, raising the prospect of a rematch between the two men. 

Democratic strategist Joel Payne said Biden’s message — including the major address he delivered last week in Philadelphia — is “more about 2024 than it is about 2022.” 

“I viewed the speech last week as laying a predicate for 2024,” Payne said. “Why he’s essential for another term, why he’s relevant. It’s a bookend for the ‘soul of the nation’ speech he delivered in Charlottesville” at the start of his presidential campaign in 2019.  

One Democratic strategist put it this way: “It almost feels like Biden has divorced himself from the outcome of the midterms a little bit. Obviously, he cares about the outcome, but I think a big part of his message right now is catered to the general election.”  

Nayyera Haq, a former Obama administration official, said the rhetoric is also about Biden solidifying his legacy.  

“Even if there are zero electoral benefits, there is the idea of legacy and what the history books will say about you,” Haq said. “You take Biden at face value. This is about the soul of the nation and the trajectory of our nation. “  

Source: The Hill

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