WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden accused former President Donald Trump and his supporters of promoting an extreme ideology that threatens democracy in rare prime-time remarks Thursday as he stepped up attacks on conservatives ahead of the midterm elections.
“Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” Biden said in the speech from the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia.
He accused so-called “MAGA Republicans,” a reference to Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan, of refusing to recognize free and fair elections, increasingly talking about violence in response to actions they don’t like, and of being determined to thwart "the will of the people."
"MAGA Republicans have made their choice. They embrace anger. They thrive on chaos. They live not in the light of truth but in the shadow of lies," Biden said.
Ahead of the remarks, a senior administration official insisted that it was “not a speech about a particular politician, or even about a particular political party." Biden said he didn't believe the ideology he was referring to represented that of most Republicans, although it has been embraced by a number of elected Republican officials.
“Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I know because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans,” Biden said. “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.”
"For a long time, we’ve reassured ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed. But it is not. We have to defend it. Protect it. Stand up for it. Each and every one of us," Biden said.
Biden laid into those who have embraced Trump's false claim that the 2020 election was rigged and sought to disrupt the coming 2022 elections, calling the belief a threat to the fundamentals of American democracy.
"Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election: either they win, or they were cheated," Biden said. "And that’s where the MAGA Republicans are today."
Republicans offered their own retort ahead of Biden's speech. Appearing hours earlier in Biden’s hometown, Scranton, Pennsylvania, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., accused the president of being divisive and called on him to apologize for labeling Trump supporters as “semi-fascists” at a recent campaign event.
“Instead of trying to bring our country together to solve these challenges, President Biden has chosen to divide, demean and disparage his fellow Americans — simply because they disagree with his policies. That’s not leadership,” McCarthy said.
“When the president speaks tonight at Independence Hall, the first lines out of his mouth should be to apologize for slandering tens of millions of Americans as ‘fascists.’”
McCarthy appeared with Jim Bognet, the Republican nominee trying to unseat Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., who represents Scranton. McCarthy, who is the favorite to be speaker if Republicans flip the House, argued that Biden has failed to fix inflation and supply-chain issues, secure the southern border or address rising crime rates.
While the Biden administration billed the remarks as an official White House event, not a campaign event, the speech comes as the president is stepping up efforts to help Democrats hang on to control of Congress with the midterm elections just over two months away.
An NBC News poll last month found that “threats to democracy” had overtaken the “cost of living” as the most important issue facing the country.
Biden likened the outlook of Republicans who have embraced the MAGA philosophy central to Trump’s presidency to “semi-fascism” at a fundraiser for Democrats last week.
In remarks this week, also in Pennsylvania, Biden accused Republicans of not being supportive of law enforcement and the rule of law for their attacks on the FBI after it searched Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, their calls to defund the FBI and the unwillingness by some in the party to condemn the Jan. 6 rioters.
“What the president believes, which is a reason to have this in prime time, is that there are an overwhelming number of Americans, the majority of Americans, who believe that we need to continue, we need to save the core values of our country,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday. “What he’s not going to do is shy away from calling out extremism that he is seeing, these MAGA Republicans.”
In a statement Thursday, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel accused Biden and Democrats of pitting Americans against one another.
“Joe Biden is the divider-in-chief and epitomizes the current state of the Democrat Party: one of divisiveness, disgust, and hostility towards half the country,” McDaniel said.