‘Semi-fascism’: Rhetoric signals Biden’s aggressive new strategy
But this Joe Biden has faded.
On Thursday night, he used newly accelerated rhetoric in a way that White House and Biden political advisers say will be part of a no-holds-barred strategy for midterms. The president accused the GOP of “semi-fascism” and said he does not respect and cannot work with “MAGA Republicans” who he says “embrace political violence.” He hardened his assertion that democracy is under threat and said the country could face the kind of test that comes every few generations, “one of the moments that changes everything”.
From a high school auditorium in Rockville, Md., Biden also mocked Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) for touting a local project he voted against. White House aides spent the late afternoon using the official Twitter account — normally reserved for political charts, press releases and fact sheets — to go on the attack. They went viral nominating Republicans, like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, who had criticized student loan forgiveness while enjoying forgiveness of their own business loan. Tweets had more engagements and retweets than almost anyone else in Biden’s White House, or precedents.
All of this amounted to a clear sign that Biden and Democrats will not rely solely on bragging about his legislation and other accomplishments, as some Democrats feared he would, but will directly accuse Republicans of fascism and violence. with the aim of raising the stakes in the medium term for the survival of democracy itself.
“It’s not hyperbole,” Biden said. “Now you must vote to literally save democracy again.”
For a constellation of Democrats who have urged Biden to use the full powers of the presidential bullying pulpit, it was a welcome change, and Biden advisers said voters would see more of it.
“There are two Joe Bidens: there’s Joe Biden governing and there’s Joe Biden campaigning,” said Celinda Lake, a longtime Democratic pollster who worked for his 2020 presidential campaign. one of the things he realizes is that to govern effectively, you have to show strength and give voters a choice.”
She said in many focus groups, even those who voted for Biden wondered if he had the stamina to advance the priorities that mattered to them. “They thought they didn’t see the strong fighter, the person they elected, and they put it down to age and weakness,” she said. “Hopefully we can anticipate this more. People were craving it.”
The change also comes at a time when former President Donald Trump is facing increasing scrutiny in a way that often creates a strange split-screen of American politics. While the ex-president has been the subject of investigations into his businesses, an FBI search of his home and congressional hearings into his actions, Biden has focused elsewhere. He has often received far less attention, but his allies hope it shows he is trying to implement policies that impact large swathes of the country even as Trump garners attention from the cable media.
As an affidavit was released on Friday revealing that 184 classified files were found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., in January, for example, Biden’s White House brought deputy director Bharat Ramamurti of the National Economic Council, in the press conference room to explain the details of the student debt cancellation plan.
But it was also clear that Biden’s more combative approach was no aberration.
As he boarded Marine One outside the White House, reporters asked about claims that Trump had a standing order that all documents he removed from the White House were automatically declassified.
Biden took on a sarcastic voice impersonating Trump. “’I’ve declassified everything in the world. I am president. I can do everything!’ ” he said. “Let’s go!”
Biden was previously willing to criticize Republicans, and his 2020 presidential campaign was largely aimed at defeating Trump, who he said was a unique threat to American values. But as president, he has often avoided directly or personally confronting his GOP opponents.
That changed on Thursday, when Biden differentiated between Republicans he considered reasonable and those he didn’t. “I respect conservative Republicans,” he said. “I don’t respect those MAGA Republicans.”
Republicans have criticized Biden for some of her rhetoric, with the Republican National Committee calling her “despicable” and others saying she is irrelevant. Highlighting the large number of Americans who voted for Trump, some suggested that Biden’s dismissal of Republican philosophy as “like semi-fascism” was similar to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 aside that half of Trump supporters were a “basket of deplorables”.
But it was clear that Biden’s comments — some of which were made at a fundraiser where reporters were present but the TV cameras weren’t on — delivered as expected. The White House defended the comments on Friday, including the line that much of the GOP has descended into “semi-fascism.”
“You look at the definition of fascism and you think about what they’re doing attacking our democracy, what they’re doing and taking away our freedoms, wanting to take away our rights, our voting rights – I mean, c is what that is,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “It’s very clear.”
Biden himself, asked Friday what he meant by “semi-fascism,” smiled broadly. “You know what I mean,” he said.
Biden advisers saw Thursday night’s events — which included a fundraiser that brought in $1 million and a rally that drew 4,000 people, about double what they had expected — as the hit. mid-term campaign season kick-off. The president plans to travel to Wilkes-Barre, Pa., next Tuesday to speak about gun crime, and advisers say he plans to travel a few times a week.
But as his approval ratings have risen recently, many candidates in the nation’s most competitive races have shunned Biden from coming to their states and districts. Still, they hope he can raise funds and help frame the national debate.
That means more denunciation of Republicans, as well as proclamation of his own accomplishments. “You’re just going to see a lot more of the same thing because it depends on what he’s done and what his vision is and what he’s fighting for,” a Biden adviser said, speaking on the guise of anonymity to preview the strategy.
Biden has long had a reputation as a bipartisan negotiator and has bragged about working with staunch old-time Republicans, even those who are anathema to other Democrats, from Jesse Helms to Strom Thurmond. Many Democrats who ran against him in 2020 questioned his ability to directly confront a newer, more scorched-earth version of the Republican Party.
But throughout his career, Biden has relished the partisan warfare that comes up every two years. This is one of the reasons President Barack Obama chose him as his running mate.
“Political debates in the Senate are one thing, but political debates become political debates in November every two years, and that’s his time to shine,” said Scott Mulhauser, a longtime Democratic consultant who served as chief of Biden’s deputy cabinet during the 2012 Obama-Biden campaign. “There’s no one who loves tossing and landing a tedder more than he does for a cause he believes in.”
And while Biden can sometimes woo Republicans, there are other times when he goes on the attack.
“We pivoted,” Mulhauser said, “from the season of legislation to the season of politics and elections.”
Biden is still touting his bipartisan legislation — including infrastructure spending, a law to help veterans exposed to toxic burning stoves and an effort to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing — but his attempts to deal with Republicans in the current Congress have largely faded away.
The president once predicted there would be an “epiphany” and an “altar call” among Republicans when Trump leaves the stage, making them open to bipartisanship again. But on Thursday, he said, “It’s not your father’s Republican party. That’s another matter.
And Trump got nowhere. “There was this great civil war within the Republican Party that unfolded, and it seems clear that Trump won that civil war,” said Ben LaBolt, a strategist who worked in the Obama administration and has advised the Biden team.
He added: “We’re getting closer to election day, this contrast comes out and the White House is saying, ‘We’re not going to pretend this is level anymore. ”
Michael Scherer contributed to this report.