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Joe Biden launched a frontal attack on Donald Trump for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, as the president cast this year’s likely rematch for the White House as a battle to save US democracy and its institutions.
Speaking in the swing-state Pennsylvania in his first re-election campaign event of the year, Biden denounced Trump for sowing lawlessness and disorder in the country, for refusing to condemn political violence, and for using the rhetoric of Nazi Germany.
“He’s willing to sacrifice our democracy to put himself in power,” Biden said of Trump, in one of the most combative speeches of his White House tenure.
“Whether democracy is still America’s sacred cause is the most urgent question of our time. It is what the 2024 election is all about.”
Biden and his campaign have moved to more aggressively attack Trump as the former president has tightened his grip on the Republican party and emerged as the clear frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.
Trump has continued to deny he lost the 2020 election and vowed retribution against his political opponents, raising concerns that he might lurch towards outright authoritarianism if he were to win a second term.
Biden’s speech was timed to coincide with the third anniversary of the January 6 2021 attack on the US Capitol, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the seat of Congress in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results.
“Those MAGA voices who know the truth about Trump and January sixth have abandoned the truth and abandoned our democracy. They’ve made their choice. Now the rest of us — Democrats, Independents, mainstream Republicans — we have to make our choice,” Biden said, referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Biden chose a venue near the Valley Forge historical park outside Philadelphia to deliver his warning about the risks to US democracy — evoking the site where George Washington assembled and rallied revolutionary forces during the war of independence against Great Britain. The president praised Washington, who then became the first US president, for not trying to stay in power beyond his second term.
“George Washington was at the height of his power having just defeated the most powerful empire on earth,” Biden said. “He could have held on to that power as long as he wanted. But that wasn’t the America he and the American troops of Valley Forge had fought for.”
Pennsylvania, where Biden was born and lived during his early childhood, is also a crucial swing state that Trump won in 2016 but Biden recaptured in 2020 — and which he is desperate to hold on to in November.
Biden’s ratings have languished over the past year, despite improving economic conditions, with 55.5 per cent of Americans disapproving of his performance in office, and just 38.3 per cent approving, according to the 538 polling average. In a hypothetical head-to-head match against Trump, Biden is narrowly trailing the former president, according to the Realclearpolitics.com average.
It is unclear how far Biden’s message on Trump’s threat to democracy will resonate with US voters.
A Washington Post and the University of Maryland poll last month found that the share of US citizens who believe Biden’s election in 2020 was legitimate had declined to 62 per cent from 69 per cent in 2021, with just 31 per cent of Republicans now acknowledging that he was legitimately elected.
While 53 per cent of Americans believe Trump bears responsibility for the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, just 14 per cent of Republicans say he does. During his speech on Thursday, Biden said his rival went ahead with his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 despite knowing “that I had won the election and he was a loser”.
Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, Biden faced criticism for focusing excessively on the dangers to the country’s political system posed by Trump’s favoured congressional candidates, rather than kitchen-table economic issues. But he was later vindicated as voters rejected many of the most extreme candidates backed by Trump.
The Trump campaign responded to the president’s speech by saying it was “crooked Joe Biden” and the “radical left” who were attacking democracy and “weaponising” the government against their political opponents.