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Image: President Joe Biden in Philadelphia on Sept. 1, 2022.
President Joe Biden in Philadelphia on Sept. 1, 2022.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images

In bashing ‘MAGA’ Republicans, Biden conflates Trump wing with traditional conservatism

Analysis: The president's aggressive criticisms of "MAGA Republicans" also includes a lot of traditional GOP ideology.


President Joe Biden ramped up his attacks on "MAGA" Republicans during a Sept. 1 primetime speech in which he scorched the Trump wing of the GOP for promoting “authoritarian leaders” and fanning “the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law.”

Biden, who has described Trump-style politics as “semi-fascism,” also blamed his movement for the push to outlaw abortion and overturn the right to same-sex marriage. “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,” Biden said.

Four days later, Biden went after “MAGA Republicans” again, saying that “the extreme right, the ‘Trumpies’ — these MAGA Republicans in Congress are coming for your Social Security as well.”

Yet for all the attention paid to Trump's movement, the pair of speeches serve to show how Biden is conflating different elements of the GOP in hopes of peeling away moderate voters.

In fact, there is a Trump-infused faction that has steered the party toward election denial and sentiments that are criticized as autocratic. And, there are traditional conservatives who have been targeting legal abortion and seeking to restructure Social Security for decades, long before Trump rode down the escalator in 2015 and began to remake the party in his image.

Biden’s rhetoric represents a way to try and drive a wedge between center-right and far-right GOP voters, a way to marginalize Trump’s movement without alienating all Republicans in pursuit of a pro-democracy coalition.

Asked about Biden conflating different wings of the GOP, a White House official said the president first used the term ultra-MAGA to describe the agenda of Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., the party’s campaign chief, which would sunset federal laws like Social Security unless Congress renews them every five years.

Progressive strategist Max Berger sees the new rhetoric as a way for Biden to “pivot” off his failed predictions that Republicans would have an “epiphany” and break free of Trump after he lost the 2020 election. He praised Biden’s aggressive rhetoric as “necessary to convey the threat that Trump and his ilk pose to democracy.”

Trump, at a Pennsylvania rally last weekend, accused Biden of giving “the most vicious, hateful, and divisive speech ever delivered by an American president” and accused him of “vilifying” millions of his voters in 2020.

And some of the ideologies Biden attributes to the “MAGA” wing predate Trump.

Curtailing retirement spending has long been a staple for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who Biden distinguished in a recent speech as “not as extreme as some of these other guys.”

By contrast, Trump broke with then-Republican orthodoxy during his 2016 campaign and vowed that he would leave Social Security alone — unlike traditional conservatives such as President George W. Bush or former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had called for partially privatizing the retirement benefit program.

On abortion, the Republican push to outlaw it dates back to 1976, when the party adopted oppositional language in its platform and pursued what became a longstanding alliance with the Christian right. Trump, however, was a late adopter. He struggled to align himself with social conservatives in his 2016 campaign before winning their support by promising to put “pro-life” justices on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Promise kept.)

Biden is on solid footing to link Trump with the overturning of the 1973 abortion-rights ruling, but there was nothing uniquely Trump-y about it. It was a cause long in the making that he got on board with, one that Republicans were sure to pursue regardless of who they picked to lead their party.