In his prime time speech on Thursday, delivered before historic Independence Hall in Philadelphia, President Biden finally gave the speech many defenders of democracy and our Republic have been waiting to hear.
He expressly called out the MAGA wing of the Republican Party as an enemy of democratic values and declared Donald Trump and his MAGA allies to be a real, present, and growing threat to ordered liberty.
"We must be honest with each other and with ourselves."
"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."
"MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution."
"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."
"And they’re working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself."
It was the strongest condemnation to date of the modern Republican Party, with Trump as its de facto leader while his many sycophantic allies hold the rest of the party hostage. And it was a far cry from the early days of the Biden administration, when he pledged to seek to unite the country and step back from partisan divisiveness.
Biden, apparently, has seen enough.
Predictably, the GOP was quick to condemn the speech.
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio—who is facing a tough reelection battle against Democratic Representative Val Demings—tweeted:
“Angry man smears half of the people of the country he is supposed to lead & promised to unite.”
And before the speech even happened, Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California launched a preemptive attack over inflation and crime and labeled Biden’s speech as nakedly partisan.
McCarthy said on Fox News:
“Instead of trying to bring our country together to solve these challenges, President Biden has chosen to divide, demean, and disparage his fellow Americans—simply because they disagree with his policies."
“When the President speaks tonight at Independence Hall, the first lines out of his mouth should be to apologize for slandering tens of millions of Americans as ‘fascists’.”
McCarthy referred to Biden’s earlier remarks condemning the MAGA movement as being “like semi-fascism.”
Biden’s speech highlights the conundrum at the center of our current political discourse. Biden is not wrong, historically speaking, that MAGA is a semi-fascist movement, leaning in as it does to illiberal values, White nationalism and the celebration of political violence.
Yet he was also not wrong at the start of his presidency to call for unity to turn down the national temperature after January 6th. His string of bipartisan, legislative successes, e.g. an historic infrastructure bill, the CHIPS Act, the PACT Act for veterans, war funding for Ukraine, and a breakthrough on gun violence prevention, unmistakably highlights the importance and value of the two parties still coming together in service of the national interest.
And yet, as threats to our elections and democratic process grow, Biden would be derelict and in violation of his sworn duty to uphold the Constitution if he did not call out Trumpism, and in so doing walk away in part from the very unity he once championed.
This is because we have in fact reached the point where we can’t realistically find common ground with MAGA extremism.
Larry Diamond, an expert on democracy and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, captured the dilemma well. Calling MAGA out in this way “can be manipulated or framed as being partisan,” he observed. And yet, “if you don’t call it out, you are shrinking from an important challenge in the defense of democracy.”
In many ways, Biden faces the same tensions that the Justice Department must consider in its investigation into Trump’s myriad crimes. It is impossible to accuse the former President of wrongdoing without his supporters crying “political witch hunt.”
But to fail to hold him to account would only encourage worse behavior and signal that his political power somehow shields him from accountability. To save democracy and the rule of law in America, both Joe Biden and Merrick Garland are now being compelled to use their power to contain or eliminate the biggest threat to democracy, which in this case happens to be the political leader of the other major party and the MAGA movement he began.
Only a handful of more principled Republicans, such as Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney and Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, recognize that doing your job as a public servant means putting country over party, and that investigations of Donald Trump and his allies are not politically driven but rather legally compelled.
Editor's note: Kinzinger announced his decision not to seek another term in Congress in October 2021. Cheney was forced out by her own party—first by stripping her of her position as Chair of the Republican Caucus which was handed to MAGA sycophant Elise Stefanik, then primarying a MAGA minion against Cheney in Wyoming. On August 16, Cheney conceded to her Trump backed challenger in a 66%-29% loss.
Biden is hoping many Republicans among the electorate agree.
And so he has made a gamble that there are many such Republicans who, together with Democrats and democracy defending independents, want to see MAGA be defeated as a political movement.
Again, there is a puzzle at the very heart of this: Biden must lead a coalition of democracy supporters to defeat MAGA extremism, and he must do so in elections that are the core of our political system—even while the MAGA wing of the GOP rejects those very elections when it doesn’t like the outcome.
Biden captured this question succinctly when he warned:
“You can’t love your country only when you win politically."
As the critical midterm elections draw near, the threat to democracy is rising to a top concern among voters, even while the former President and allies such as Lindsey Graham stoke the MAGA base in preparation for civil strife, particularly if Trump is indicted. But Biden recognizes that we are at a point where some critical questions must be posed.
If the Democrats manage to pull-off electoral wins and prevent the GOP from recapturing Congress, will Republican candidates accept the results?
Will MAGA extremists once again seek to invalidate those results or, worse still, turn to force once more to try and overturn the election?
This November could provide an important preview to the even more perilous presidential election in 2024.