Biden slams ‘MAGA’ Republicans as threat to US democracy

President Joe Biden is increasingly concerned about anti-democratic trends in the Republican Party. PHOTO: REUTERS

PHILADELPHIA - President Joe Biden condemned extremism by former president Donald Trump and his Republican supporters as a threat to America’s democracy in a prime-time speech on Thursday.

Mr Biden warned that Mr Trump and his “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) loyalists had no respect for the rule of law or the Constitution, and were undermining democracy by empowering election deniers and fanning the flames of political violence.

“Too much of what is happening in our country today is not normal. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic,” said Mr Biden, who stressed that he was not referring to all Republicans, just those who embraced that extreme ideology.

“But there is 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,” he added.

Mr Biden also characterised the upcoming midterm elections as a “battle for the soul of this nation”.

Addressing a hundreds-strong invited audience in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the country’s founding fathers drafted and adopted its Declaration of Independence and Constitution, Mr Biden invoked America’s centuries-long fight for liberty.

“History tells us that blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence are fatal to democracy,” said the President.

He also referenced the “darkness” of the 2017 white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia - an event he has called the catalyst for his decision to run for president.

Mr Biden spent the second half of his speech exhorting Americans to vote in November’s midterm congressional elections to defend democracy and reject political violence.

He also painted a picture of a bright future while touting Democrats’ legislative wins under his leadership, including an economic recovery package, infrastructure investment and gun safety.

But he also referenced Republicans’ push to restrict abortion access, an issue that recent polls show is galvanising Democrat and independent voters.

Said Mr Biden: “MAGA forces are determined to take this country 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.”

MAGA refers to former US president Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr Biden sought to condemn an extremist ideology without tarring with the same brush all 74 million Americans who voted for Mr Trump in 2020. 

Republican leaders, in response, nonetheless slammed Mr Biden for being partisan and divisive.

Republican National Committee chairman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement: “Joe Biden is the divider-in-chief and epitomises the current state of the Democrat Party: one of divisiveness, disgust and hostility towards half the country.”

Several times during his speech, Mr Biden was interrupted by pro-Trump supporters heckling him but brushed them off, joking that “good manners are nothing they’ve ever suffered from”. He added that they had the right to protest because America was a democracy.

His message resonated with some supporters and bystanders in Philadelphia, a largely liberal city in the swing state of Pennsylvania.

Retired professor Constance Kirker, 73, who tuned in to the speech on her phone from another section of the Independence National Historical Park where Mr Biden was speaking, said the President’s grouping of MAGA Republicans together was tricky and might be taken personally by them. But his comments reflected the way she felt about them, she said.

“They are really kind of a cult,” she told The Straits Times. “It is really hard to imagine the vision that MAGA Republicans have for the country, because they don’t express a vision. It is just all this hatred.”

Referring to the Trump campaign promise of building a wall along the US-Mexico border, she said: “You don’t exactly know what they would do besides being absolutely sure that they would build a wall.”

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Mr Reggie Regrut, a 71-year-old veteran who showed up in support of Mr Biden with a handmade sign calling Mr Trump a traitor, told ST he was glad the President was calling out his predecessor by name.

“I enlisted in the US Army Reserve and I held up my hand to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic,” Mr Regrut said.

“Donald Trump is a domestic enemy. On Jan 6, he attempted to overthrow the government. He led an insurrection. That is treason,” he said, referring to last year’s attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters.

Mr Jared McGriff, 44, who works in marketing, said: “That faction is not representative of democracy. In Florida where I live, there are a lot of Republicans that have those views. To me, that reeks of authoritarianism, and any hint of that should be stopped.”

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