Trump and ‘MAGA Republican extremists’ threaten US democracy, Biden says

President Joe Biden underscores risk to democracy in a speech dedicated to late Republican Senator John McCain.

President Joe Biden salutes the crowd as he speaks about democracy and the legacy of the late Arizona Sen. John McCain at the Tempe Center for the Arts, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, in Tempe, Ariz. Biden stands in front of a large American flag. His hand is flat in front of his face.
US President Joe Biden has denounced the threat of ‘extremist’ politics during a speech in Tempe, Arizona [Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo]

United States President Joe Biden has lashed out at his Republican rival Donald Trump, saying the former president’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) campaign is an “extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs in our democracy”.

During an event to honour late Senator John McCain in Tempe, Arizona, on Thursday, Biden said that, while not all Republicans adhere to the movement, the party is currently “driven and intimidated by MAGA Republican extremists”.

“Their extreme agenda, if carried out, will fundamentally alter the institutions of American democracy as we know it,” he said.

Biden has made protecting democracy and state institutions a key plank in his 2024 re-election bid as the country’s presidential race picks up steam.

In doing so, the Democratic president hopes to strike a contrast with Trump, his Republican predecessor.

Joe Biden hugs Cindy McCain on stage in Tempe Arizona.
Cindy McCain, wife of late Senator John McCain, greets President Joe Biden on stage at the Tempe Center for the Arts in Tempe, Arizona [Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

During his speech, Biden made scarce mention of Trump, who is currently the clear frontrunner for the Republican Party’s 2024 nomination. But Trump loomed large throughout the remarks, as Biden referenced his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, both directly and indirectly.

“Democracy means rule of the people. Not rule of monarchs, not rule of the money, not rule of the mighty,” Biden told the audience at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

“Regardless of party, that means respecting free and fair elections. Accepting the outcome, win or lose.”

Trump has long maintained, without evidence, that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him through voter fraud.

He currently faces four criminal indictments, two of which pertain to his efforts to reverse his 2020 loss to Biden. Trump has denied wrongdoing in all four cases.

Biden also alluded to the rising political violence in the country, a phenomenon that has come to be typified by the deadly attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

During that attack, thousands of Trump supporters converged on the Capitol, attacking law enforcement and breaking into the building in an attempt to halt the certification of 2020 election results.

An estimated 1,146 participants have been arrested in the years since, with 657 pleading guilty to federal charges.

Trump has been criticised for inaction during the January 6 attack, ignoring calls to intervene. Eventually, after hours of violence, he released a Twitter video calling for the rioters to leave the Capitol, though he reiterated his false claim of election fraud.

“Go home. We love you. You’re very special,” Trump told rioters in the video. “I know how you feel.”

Biden appeared to take aim at those kinds of remarks in Thursday’s address.

“Democracy means rejecting and repudiating political violence. Regardless of party, such violence is never, never, never acceptable in America. It’s undemocratic, and it must never be normalised to advance political power,” he said.

Biden also accused Trump and his allies of leading with “vengeance and vindictiveness”, stretching the bounds of the US Constitution to further political aims.

He said “extremists” in the Republican Party are “pushing a notion the defeated former president expressed when he was in office”.  That notion, Biden continued, is that the president “is above the law, no limits on power”.

“Trump says the constitution gave him, quote, the right to do whatever he wants as president, end of quote,” Biden continued. “I’ve never heard a president say that in jest.”

As the Republican Party lurches rightward, Biden made an appeal to the political centre with his speech, playing up his across-the-aisle friendship with the late McCain, a Vietnam War veteran and Republican.

“We’re like two brothers. We’d argue like hell,” Biden said, reprising a theme he has spoken to in the past. “I mean, really go at each other. And then we’d go to lunch together.”

Trump has previously issued controversial remarks about McCain, questioning whether the late senator could be a “hero” if he was a prisoner of war: “I like people who weren’t captured, okay?”

Arizona, formerly a Republican stronghold, has increasingly become a key swing state. In 2016, Trump won Arizona. In 2020, Biden did, turning the state blue for the first time since the 1990s.

Al Jazeera’s John Hendren said that Arizona will be crucial in the likely rematch between Biden and Trump in 2024.

“There are three states that most analysts say the Republicans have to win,” Hendren explained from Tempe. “They say the Republicans have to win Georgia, Wisconsin and Arizona.”

Joe Biden stands at a podium dabbing his eyes, as a casket covered with an American flag sits in front of him.
Joe Biden honoured the late Senator John McCain at his funeral in Phoenix, Arizona, on August 30, 2018 [File: Brian Snyder/Reuters]

Hendren also highlighted the fact that Biden’s speech takes place against the ongoing debate over federal spending — and a fast-approaching September 30 deadline to pass budget legislation.

If Congress fails to pass a budget bill, all non-essential government functions are slated to shut down, with federal programmes and employee paychecks suspended.

“As he spoke, the government faces a looming shutdown led by MAGA extremists in the Republican Party,” Hendren explained. Biden, he added, was asking the nation, “What do we want to be?”

“You can see this is a shot across the bow of Donald Trump, and it is the clarion call of Biden’s campaign in the coming year,” Hendren said.

Source: Al Jazeera