Is it wise for Biden to call out ‘MAGA extremism’?

·Senior Editor
·7 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

On Thursday night, President Biden gave a fiery speech in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in which he denounced “extreme MAGA ideology” and argued that former President Donald Trump and his followers “represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”

Biden's remarks were the most forceful criticism yet of the election denial that has become a cornerstone of the MAGA movement — an acronym for Trump’s signature slogan “Make America Great Again” — since Trump’s loss in the 2020 election.

For most of his first year in office, Biden shied away from directly discussing Trump, often referring to him only as “the former guy.” But more recently, Biden has adopted a new approach, choosing to aggressively rebuke Trump's conspiracies about the 2020 race and ongoing efforts to elect Republicans to key offices who could put the integrity of future elections at risk.

“And they’re working right now, as I speak, in state after state, to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself,” he said Thursday night.

Biden's speech came a week after he referred to the “MAGA philosophy” as “semi-fascism” at a donor event in Maryland.

Why there’s debate

Biden’s speech and his previous comments unsurprisingly sparked uproar among Trump-supporting Republicans and allies in far-right media. But even among those who accept the results of the 2020 election and worry about the threat the MAGA movement may pose to future races, there’s debate about whether the president’s aggressive denunciations are an appropriate response.

A number of moderate politicians from both parties and centrist media members have criticized Biden’s “divisive” rhetoric. Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has accused Biden of contributing to “toxic politics'' that's at the root of the nation’s intense partisan divisions. Others argue that using words like fascism and authoritarianism, which evoke images of Nazis and tyrannical governments, is a step too far and may even make it harder to convince voters that the MAGA movement’s more mundane, procedural efforts to tip elections pose a real threat to democracy.

Some conservatives, many of whom vehemently oppose Trump, have accused Biden of unfairly trying to cast all Republicans as dangerous extremists. Others argue that it's unseemly for Biden to act as if only Democrats care about the stability of American elections and to treat democracy as another partisan talking point.

But many have applauded Biden for, in their view, finally being willing to address the dangers of the MAGA movement head-on and make the case to voters that democracy is truly on the ballot in the upcoming midterms. They say that, however inflammatory Biden’s words are, they are simply true. They argue that anything short of forcefully condemning the MAGA movement’s ongoing campaign to undermine the electoral process — whether from the president or the media — is an act of complicity in the group’s attacks on democracy.

What’s next

The wisdom, or lack thereof, of Biden’s approach could play a significant role in deciding which party controls Congress after November midterm elections. In a recent NBC poll, voters ranked “threats to democracy” as the No. 1 issue facing the country.

Perspectives

Backers

Biden’s accusations are appropriate because they’re true

“At a fundamental level, Biden’s core claim — that Trump and the swaths of the GOP allied with him pose a foundational threat — is absolutely reasonable.” — Greg Sargent, Washington Post

Biden has gone to great pains to say the MAGA extremism does not represent all Republicans

“I think Biden was wise to draw a distinction between ‘MAGA’ Republicans and others. Many voters have strong Republican identities, but are beginning to question Trumpism. Best to give them an off ramp that doesn’t require them to remake their political identity all at once.” — Vox correspondent Ian Millhiser

The fact that there’s even debate shows how broken American political media is

“The issue is that the conventions of political reporting are such that if you simply state the facts of the matter — donald trump and his allies have essentially made pro-insurrection beliefs a matter of Republican orthodoxy — that is unacceptable ‘bias’” — New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie

MAGA candidates are openly saying that they will undermine elections if given the chance

“A single victory for a GOP [Secretary of State] candidate in Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, or [governor] in [Pennsylvania] puts the 2024 election, and American democracy as a whole, at risk. This isn’t conjecture or Biden’s opinion: it’s what the Republican candidates in those races have said themselves repeatedly.” — HuffPost reporter Travis Waldron

Biden has a duty to give voters an unvarnished representation of current dangers to democracy

“Americans can freely vote for MAGA Republicans in the upcoming 2022 (and 2024) elections. But placing and keeping these people in power in the short term would likely result in long-term one-party rule, as well as massive restrictions on the liberties of racial, religious and sexual minorities, as well as women. This is a hard truth that every American must face. It is the job of the president to speak frankly to the nation, even about uncomfortable truths.” — Jason Stanley, NBC News

The speech may hurt Biden politically, but his statements needed to be said

“There’s an argument that, at a moment when Biden’s political standing is on the upswing, it was a risky speech. But it was, above all else, necessary.” — Rex Huppke, USA Today

Critics

Aggressive attacks from Biden give fuel to Trump and his allies

“The Trump phenomenon has always been a form of political jiujitsu, using the force deployed against it as a source of strength. The more Trump is called names and investigated, the better.” — Rich Lowry, Politico

It’s unfair to paint all conservative views as anti-democracy

“Everything is ‘MAGA’ now — tax cuts, opposition to abortion, support for the Second Amendment, religious-liberty concerns, the Supreme Court. And thus, via the transitive property, everything has become ‘Democracy,’ too. In concerned tones, Democrats have taken to saying on television that if a majority of voters choose the Republican Party in the midterms, that will be ‘undemocratic.’” — Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review

Biden is raising the temperature of partisan debate in a potentially dangerous way

“The use of political emotion in a deeply divided society carries some dangers. It is guaranteed to provoke an equally emotional response on the other side, raising temperatures instead of lowering them. Angry language makes the other side angry too, and can also galvanize voters. … The Republican Party will undoubtedly start fundraising among those Americans who do indeed feel demeaned and disparaged.” — Anne Applebaum, Atlantic

Biden’s language makes it harder to accurately describe what the MAGA movement is actually doing

“These days, when we face authoritarian, anti-democratic threats to our own institutions … it’s not surprising that we reach for harsh language to convey the gravity of our situation and the depth of our anger. But imprecision, hyperbole, false comparisons and empty words can be dangerous. They oversimplify and trivialize; they desensitize us to nuance.” — Nicholas Goldberg, Los Angeles Times

The country would benefit debate centered around policy issues that directly affect voters

“We’re in an election cycle, so on cue the Democrats roll out the Donald J. Trump monolith to frighten the population. Mr. Trump himself never looks a gift horse in the mouth. Politicians go negative because negative works. The pity here is that this November’s elections are indeed important because the first two years of Mr. Biden’s presidency have become consequential.” — Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal

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