By Michael Gryboski, Mainline Church Editor | Friday, September 2, 2022
With two months to go until the midterm elections, President Joe Biden has declared that former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters are a threat to “the very foundations of our republic” in a speech that critics derided as an attack on American citizens.
In a speech Thursday evening at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Biden noted that the venue served as the location where “the United States Constitution was written and debated.” He noted that “this is where we set in motion the most extraordinary experiment of self-government the world has ever known,” creating a society based on “equality and democracy.”
Warning that “equality and democracy are under assault,” Biden declared that “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.” The term “MAGA” refers to Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
“Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans,” he clarified. “Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology.”
“I know because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans,” Biden continued. “But there’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans, and that is a threat to this country.”
“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.”
Biden warned that “MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards — backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.” This portion of the speech indirectly refers to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ruled that the U.S. Constitution did not contain a right to abortion and thereby reversed the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
While the Dobbs decision itself outraged Democrats and pro-abortion activists, critics of the ruling also expressed concern about Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in Dobbs describing the doctrine of substantive due process that underpinned the Roe decision as “demonstrably erroneous” and suggesting that the court should “reconsider” all rulings based on that principle. He specifically mentioned the rulings declaring rights to same-sex marriage and contraception as constitutional rights.
While Thomas expressed an openness to examine “whether other constitutional provisions guarantee the myriad rights that our substantive due process cases have generated,” Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives passed measures to codify the rights to same-sex marriage and contraception into federal law. The bills still await action in the U.S. Senate.
Biden continued his speech by contending that Trump and “MAGA Republicans” support “authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.” According to Biden, “They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6th — brutally attacking law enforcement — not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger to the throat of our democracy, but they look at them as patriots.”
Biden argued that the “soul of America is defined by the sacred proposition that all are created equal in the image of God” and that “all are entitled to be treated with decency, dignity, and respect.” He also urged people to “vote, vote, vote” in the upcoming midterm elections, stressing that “we need everyone to do their part.”
Additionally, the president suggested that “if we do our duty in 2022 and beyond, then ages still to come will say we — all of us here — we kept the faith” and “preserved democracy.” The implication was that voting for Democrats in the midterms was necessary to preserve democracy.
“We just need to remember who we are. We are the United States of America. The United States of America,” he concluded. “May God protect our nation. And may God protect all those who stand watch over our democracy. God bless you all.”
The speech received much criticism from conservative commentators and Republican politicians, among them Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
“Angry man smears half of the people of the country he is supposed to lead & promised to unite,” tweeted Rubio, getting nearly 13,000 likes by Friday morning.
Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review objected to Biden’s inclusion of abortion opponents in his definition of MAGA Republicans, viewing it as pandering to pro-choice groups.
“If the president actually wanted to unite, he wouldn’t have attacked Americans who believe abortion is the civil-rights issue of our lives. He wouldn’t have mentioned contraception (no one is taking it away — it’s a scare tactic, and it’s a cynical, underhanded attack on the likes of the Little Sisters of the Poor, on conscience rights),” wrote Lopez.’
“I could have agreed with much that he said — about the election results, about division and anger and violence — if he hadn’t made sure to make Planned Parenthood happy during the speech. They are purveyors of violence and ought to be renamed UnParenthood.”
Franklin Graham, the president of the Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, also condemned Biden’s speech in a lengthy Facebook post: “Tonight President Biden said that MAGA threatens the very foundation of our republic. Really? I want to see America great again. I want to see America as a leader, as a place for people who desire liberty and justice for all. I don’t want to see this country turned into a socialist country.”
“Does believing in freedom, justice, opportunity, less taxes, and smaller government make me an extremist? Absolutely not. The ones who are extremists are the ones who want to take that away from us!” he added. “President Biden is trying to vilify and demean conservative, freedom-loving Americans who do not support the failing and economically unsound policies of his administration. This is just further dividing our nation.”
Graham insisted that “America can only have true greatness through God,” adding “The blessings of this nation have come from the hand of God.” He maintained that “We need to turn to Him” because “We need His help, His direction, and His healing.”
Criticism of the speech extended beyond political opponents of the president. Brianna Keilar of CNN took issue with the optics of the Biden speech, specifically that he had U.S. Marines behind him as he spoke.
“Whatever you think of this speech the military is supposed to be apolitical. Positioning Marines in uniform behind President Biden for a political speech flies in the face of that. It’s wrong when Democrats do it. It’s wrong when Republicans do it,” she tweeted.
Biden’s speech in Philadelphia came 68 days before the 2022 midterm elections that will determine control of the U.S. Congress for the next two years. The president’s approval rating has been consistently underwater over the past year, although it has rose slightly in recent weeks. As of Friday morning, the RealClearPolitics average of polls measuring presidential approval showed that 42.0% of Americans approve of Bidens job performance compared to 54.8% who disapprove.
Since presidential approval often plays an outsized role in determining the outcome of midterm elections, political observers have expected Republicans to do well in the upcoming midterms. The FiveThirtyEight Deluxe Model, which predicts the outcome of elections based on “polls, fundraising, past voting patterns” as well as experts political analysis gives Republicans a 75% chance of taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives while giving Democrats a 68% chance of keeping control of the U.S. Senate as of Friday morning.
All 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are on the ballot this year along with 35 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate. Democrats currently have a narrow majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and a 50-50 majority in the U.S. Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote in favor of the Democrats.
Over the past several months, Republicans have consistently maintained a narrow lead on the generic ballot, which asks voters which party they would like to control Congress. However, the generic ballot has tightened over the summer and the RealClearPolitics average of polls asking voters for their preferences in the midterms shows Democrats with an extremely narrow 0.1% lead as of Friday morning.