Gloves Off, Biden Embraces Tough Tones For ‘MAGA Republicans’

WASHINGTON (AP) — In recent days, President Joe Biden has stepped up his attacks on Donald Trump and so-called MAGA Republicans for posing a threat to democracy. He likened the philosophy governing the current GOP mainstream to “semi-fascism.”

And Democrats are taking notice.

Biden’s hands-off, no-holds-barred approach has emboldened Democrats across the country, rallying the party faithful ahead of the November election, even as his tougher rhetoric makes some vulnerable incumbents visibly uncomfortable.

Biden’s increasingly strident warnings about Trump-fueled elements of the GOP are a key part of his midterm message, along with repeated reminders to voters of recent Democratic achievements and a promise that democracy can still produce results for the American people. But it is Biden’s outlandish remarks about his predecessor and advocates of the “Make America Great Again” philosophy that have given many Democrats renewed energy as they campaign to retain control of Congress.

“It’s a particularly strong issue for our base,” said Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, who heads the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, the official campaign arm of Senate Democrats. “People want us, they want people to show that there’s a clear contrast in the election between where the Democrats and the Republicans were.”

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., noted that “politics is kind of like a team sport, and the president is the quarterback.”

“The team is not going to fight hard if they don’t see the leader of the team fight hard,” said Hanna, who supported Bernie Sanders during the 2020 primary but has since been a vocal liberal defender of Biden.

Biden’s tough stance on the campaign trail comes as Democrats feel more optimistic about the midterm elections, when the party that controls the White House has historically faced losses in Congress. A combination of legislative accomplishments, polarization of Republican candidates and voter anger fueled by the overturning of Roe v. Wade has Democrats feeling they could see smaller losses in the House than originally expected while maintaining the irrevocable their majority in the Senate.

The president began testing his midterm message at a rally in the Washington suburbs late last month as he railed against a Republican ideology that he said resembled a lot of “quasi-fascism.” The White House chose Philadelphia’s Independence Hall as the backdrop for last week’s speech that outlined the danger Trump’s “extreme ideology” poses to the functioning of US democracy.

And at a pair of Labor Day events in crucial midterm battlegrounds, Biden continued to hammer the opposition while becoming even more comfortable invoking his predecessor, whom he had avoided mentioning by name for much of his presidency.

“You can’t call yourself a democracy when you don’t actually count the votes that the people legally cast and you don’t count them as who you are,” Biden told a union crowd in Pittsburgh on Monday. “Trump and the MAGA Republicans have made their choice. We can choose to build a better America, or we can continue down this sliding path of oblivion where we don’t want to go.”

Biden will headline another political event on Thursday, hosted by the Democratic National Committee in suburban Maryland. There, the president will talk about “the choice before Americans” on abortion, Social Security and Medicare, democracy, school safety and climate, and how “extreme MAGA Republicans are working to take away our rights,” according to an adviser Biden. who requested anonymity to preview his remarks. That will be followed by a trip to Ohio on Friday, a state where the Senate race between Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican JD Vance is becoming increasingly competitive.

Those close to Biden say the president has never shied away from a political fight.

“He’s always stood up very aggressively when he thinks the other side is wrong,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who has known Biden since the 1980s. “I think he’s always tried to lift up the country and tried to reach out to our better angels, while at the same time supporting when he thinks the other side is on the wrong track.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said issues of democracy, as well as Trump himself, are increasingly issues of concern to voters.

“More and more people feel that, you know, this former president has broken the law over and over and over again, and the people around him are still making efforts to undermine our democracy,” he said. Stabenow praised Biden’s recent approach, noting that “threats are only increasing, not decreasing.”

But Biden’s sharper stance has been more complicated for Democrats competing in some of the most contested Senate races this cycle as they seek to attract support from voters who may have backed Trump in 2020.

While she said she has “concerns about attacks on our democracy,” Sen. Maggie Hassan, DN.H., told WMUR News 9 in New Hampshire that “I think President Biden’s comments were very broad.” Hassan is considered one of the party’s most vulnerable incumbents, though she won’t meet her Republican challenger until the state’s Sept. 13 primary.

Asked about those same Biden statements, Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., told The Associated Press that he had not seen them.

“I think a president has a right to express his opinion,” added Kelly, who faces Republican Blake Masters in one of the most closely watched Senate contests this fall. “You know, I don’t share all his views. But he has the right to speak his mind.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he didn’t like the phrase “semi-fascism,” calling it “awkward.”

“But are they leaning towards fascism? Absolutely,” Durbin said. “When you deny the results of the election, when you talk about street mobs taking power, I mean that to me is not consistent with democratic values.”

Republicans have accused Biden of divisive rhetoric in a series of speeches, particularly his speech in Philadelphia. They say the president has singled out tens of millions of Americans who supported Trump as threats to democracy, though both the president and his aides have been careful to distinguish elected officials from the voters themselves.

GOP officials still believe that Biden remains in charge in competitive districts and states, although his approval ratings have risen somewhat in recent weeks as the White House noted a number of accomplishments and as Trump’s legal troubles — starting with FBI investigation of his south Florida estate – dominated the headlines.

“I hope Biden continues to go around the country,” Sen. Rick Scott said in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday night. “I hope he goes to every swing state and gives his crazy crazy speech all over the country.”

However, in these swing states, more Democrats who initially shied away from joining Biden are increasingly comfortable doing so. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat running in one of the nation’s most closely contested gubernatorial races, joined Biden in Milwaukee on Monday, though Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes stayed away.

After avoiding other presidential visits to the state, Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman, a Democrat, appeared with Biden in Pittsburgh.

Peters, the DSCC chairman, said it’s up to each Democratic candidate to decide whether to run alongside Biden, but said he thinks the president is an asset. Peters noted that he was the only Democratic candidate in 2014 to actively campaign with President Barack Obama during a midterm year that was very favorable for Republicans.

“Everyone ran away. I got him in and I won,” Peters said. “So that’s my data point.”

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