Biden blasts Trump as a ‘despicable’ danger to democracy

Biden blasts Trump as a ‘despicable’ danger to democracy

President Joe Biden on Friday declared that defending democracy from the extremist forces that fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection three years ago was the nation’s “sacred cause,” one that would be at the heart of his reelection bid.

In what resembled an unofficial campaign kickoff, Biden took square aim at his likely general election opponent, Donald Trump, denouncing his efforts to remain in power after the 2020 election. Unleashing his strongest language yet against his once and possibly future foe, Biden tore into his predecessor, deeming Trump “despicable” and a danger to the nation he once led.

“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 told a crowd gathered in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

“The choice is clear: Donald Trump’s campaign is about him. Not America, not you,” the president continued. “Donald Trump’s campaign is obsessed with the past, not the future. He’s willing to sacrifice our democracy, put himself in power.”

The looming rematch between Biden and Trump would present America with an unprecedented stark choice of visions for the future, and the incumbent president set the stakes for the election as a defining moment for the nation. Biden both invoked distant history of George Washington at Valley Forge, as well as the searing images from the U.S. Capitol riot three years ago, to connect the American traditions of fighting for freedom while also being willing to relinquish power.

The president recalled how the mob “waving Trump flags and Confederate flags, stormed right past” a Washington portrait that was commissioned by an artist impressed that the general had handed over his military commissioner after the war instead of trying to become king.

“In America, our leaders don’t hold on to power relentlessly. Our leaders return power to the people — willingly. You do your duty. You serve your country,” Biden said.

The president, at times, seemed equally incredulous and disgusted by Trump’s behavior, which included embracing a choir of Jan. 6 convicts, celebrating the assault of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, and simply standing by as violence raged nearby at the Capitol.

“It was among the worst derelictions of duty by a president in American history,” he said.

Biden once was reluctant to call out Trump by name. That was not the case Friday, as he ran through a catalog of his predecessor’s incendiary actions and words, including his refusal to denounce political violence, his warm words for dictators and his use of language evocative of Nazi Germany.

He deemed Trump “the election denier in truth” and declared that his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election only proved that “I won the election and he was a loser.”

Biden aides have been confident that voters — like they did in the 2022 midterms — would rally behind the cause of democracy. But it is becoming less clear how true that assertion is the further the country moves away from the riots that day. Biden himself noted that Republicans who once distanced themselves from Trump have embraced him again, and a recently released Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that 34 percent of Republican voters falsely believe the FBI organized the attempted insurrection.

The Biden campaign is hoping that speeches like the one Friday will help remind voters of what happened, in addition to framing the stakes ahead.

“We all know who Donald Trump is,” Biden said. “The question we have to answer is: Who are we? That’s what’s at stake.”

Biden aides had long considered holding an event near Valley Forge, the famed headquarters of Gen. Washington’s Continental Army during the American Revolution. The site has historical resonance not just as a venue for a battle for liberty, but also for the decisions Washington later made. Washington twice willingly gave up power: first, he resigned his military commission and then later walked away from the presidency after two terms.

Biden made the fight for democracy and denouncing political violence central to his 2020 campaign and to the party’s message for the midterm elections two years later. He delivered one closely watched speech at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall and then another not far from the Capitol just days after Pelosi’s husband was beaten by an attacker who prosecutors said was influenced by extremist rhetoric.

Biden returned to the theme last year during a speech at the McCain Institute, and aides suggested that it would become a staple of the upcoming campaign. At Valley Forge, he toured Washington’s quarters and a memorial before delivering his speech at a nearby community college.

During the speech, Biden extended the concept of freedom to other areas, including access to the vote, abortion rights and economic fairness. But he said none of those would be possible “if democracy falls.”

Biden plans to pair the Valley Forge speech — which was originally slated for Saturday, the third anniversary of the insurrection, but pushed up a day because of an impending winter storm — with one Monday at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The historic church was the site of a racist mass shooting in 2015. Aides said Biden’s address at the church will link that violence to hateful extremism, while also acting as outreach to Black voters.

Biden’s itinerary in the coming days reflects a series of key electoral goals. Pennsylvania is considered by many political operatives to be the most important state on the map to November and the one in which Biden has spent the most time since taking office. And his visit to South Carolina will underscore just how critically he regards the state, which holds the year’s first sanctioned Democratic primary.

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