Biden Risks Backlash After Attacking MAGA Republicans in Pa. Speech

WASHINGTON – Buoyed by a string of recent political victories, President Joe Biden is rekindling his offense and pushing a message about democracy at risk.

But questions are growing in battleground states about whether the president’s somber tone Thursday night in Pennsylvania and stark warnings about the state of the union will have any impact — or even need to.

Several analysts say the best campaign-winning argument Democrats have two months into the midterms is that they are the party of abortion rights. The Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade in June was the biggest motivator for voters and has cross-party appeal, according to multiple polls and primary results.

“Roe is more motivating for women than having a woman on the ballot in 2016 or 2020. It brings in cross-party voters and new voters and swing independents,” according to Grassroots Midwest CEO Adrian Hemond.

And yet the president this week has focused less on that winning message and more on his predecessor and those who subscribe to the Make America Great Again movement.

“MAGA forces are determined to take this country back,” Biden said.

He later called on all Americans to be more committed to saving democracy. “For too long, we’ve been telling ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed, but it’s not. We have to defend it, protect it, defend it. Every one of us.”

US President Joe Biden speaks about the soul of the nation outside Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 1, 2022.

Biden speech: ‘MAGA forces’ determined to ‘take the country backwards’, says Biden in speech from Philadelphia

The Biden speech has questionable timing

The president’s message Thursday night is one Michigan voters could live without.

Republicans are unlikely to listen, and Democrats and independents are more motivated by Roe, Hammond said.

“Democrats have a live issue that works,” he said, referring to abortion rights. “I don’t understand why they’re talking about anything else.”

The timing is also confusing for analysts in battleground states.

His speech began at 8 p.m. in Philadelphia, at the same time as the start of a Penn State football game and an hour after Pitt’s football players took the field. Voters in Pennsylvania, a state with die-hard football fans, probably cared more about the onslaught on the field than about Biden.

“Maybe the president thinks he can convince more Americans how fragile our democracy is — which is a serious and important issue — but the timing doesn’t make much sense,” Hammond said. “On a Thursday night when college football starts in a state that lives for football, it’s not at all clear what the outcome is.”

More than a dozen other college football games around the country were also being played as the president spoke.

With any major prime-time presidential speech, there’s always a downside risk that it might do more harm than good or face a lackluster response, he said.

“Is the juice worth squeezing?” Hammond said.

Some analysts say no and some have warned that the president could face a backlash from voters.

The President risks backlash by pandering to voters, not just Trump

By targeting MAGA Republicans, Biden is taking a course that hasn’t worked well for other Democrats in battleground states.

Hillary Clinton has faced criticism for calling supporters of her Republican rival Donald Trump “deplorable”. Former President Barack Obama faced pushback after saying Pennsylvanians cling to “guns and religion.”

Biden is already facing calls from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to apologize for invoking fascism when describing Trump and his supporters.

“President Biden has chosen to divide, belittle and belittle his fellow Americans. Why? Simply because they disagree with his policies. That is not leadership,” McCarthy said.

It’s one thing for a president to criticize a candidate and another for him to criticize voters, according to Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll in Wisconsin.

“It can be detrimental,” he said. “When you say something negative about voters, that’s harder to overcome.”

With the midterm elections nine weeks away, Biden’s message is likely to be received by Republicans as another partisan attack on Trump, according to Franklin.

Trump, meanwhile, has a knack for turning criticism into marketing opportunities.

For example, when Biden labeled some of the former president’s allies as “ultra MAGA,” Trump turned the slogan into a commodity. It is also raising money from the Mar-a-Lago investigation that brought to light many secret and top secret documents.

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Because Biden gave the speech

President Joe Biden arrives with First Lady Jill Biden to speak outside Independence Hall on September 1, 2022, in Philadelphia.

President Joe Biden arrives with First Lady Jill Biden to speak outside Independence Hall on September 1, 2022, in Philadelphia.

The president’s message is aimed at three groups, according to Fred Hicks, a political strategist in Georgia.

They include disgruntled Democrats who are contributing to Biden’s low approval numbers, Bush-Reagan Republicans who are putting country over party, and independents who are breaking with Democrats.

Biden is unlikely to sway Trump Republicans with his speech, but Hicks said the president’s message could further inspire Republicans who voted for Bush and Reagan to stay home in November.

“They won’t vote for Democrats, but they won’t vote overall, and that’s a win for Democrats,” Hicks said.

Franklin will listen closely to Biden in Wisconsin next week to see if he repeats some of the same themes as Thursday in a state where just 1 percent separates voter registration between Democrats and Republicans. There aren’t many independents there, but that also means it doesn’t take many independents to make an election.

There is a somewhat growing contingent in the Midwest, where about a quarter or more Republicans are “not on the Trump train,” Franklin said. It’s a significant minority that is tired of Trumpism, but is still “incredibly hard to move” toward the Democrats.

Can Biden Move the Political Needle?

What if “we humans” are too apathetic? some analysts wondered.

While there is some openness among Ohio Republicans to alternatives to Trump, it’s still a reliably red state that the former president won twice by 8 points and where Trump-backed JD Vance has a slim lead in a U.S. Senate race that could shift control of Congress to Republicans, according to Christopher Devine, associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton.

“There are probably 20% to 25% of Ohio Republicans who are open to the message of Trumpism’s threats, but this speech may be more for Democrats who need to further mobilize to vote in November,” he said.

As Biden spoke in Pennsylvania — the state he won after days of counting — the gubernatorial midterm election was between Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has been linked to Trump’s fake voters. There is also a crucial US Senate race there between Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Trump-backed Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz that could determine control of Congress.

“Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes in an election: either they win or they are cheated,” Biden said Thursday night.

In his words, Biden was writing about the history of where he stands and what he believes in, even as he worked to remind voters that America is an idea — an idea that has become a beacon to the world.

“Presidents are acutely aware of their legacy,” said Terry Madonna, a veteran political analyst in Pennsylvania. “Who we are as Americans matters a lot to Biden, who built his first campaign on the soul of the nation.”

His speech was also more of a campaign than a speech that addressed the main issue for all voters, which is the cost of living, according to almost every poll.

“He’s trying to win a battle on principle, and he saw a moment here to go on the offensive,” said Sean Freeder, an assistant professor of political science at the University of North Florida. “He might have been able to unify his base more by talking about student loans and roe.”

When Frieder first heard Biden was going to give a speech for MAGA Republicans, he thought it was the wrong strategy.

“When you’re in an uptrend, you don’t need to change direction. Going after Trump and his supporters is a bit of a risk,” he said.

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Candy Woodall is a congressional reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden speech: Will he face backlash for hitting MAGA Republicans?

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