President Biden on Thursday night launched a push toward the midterm elections with a fiery speech in Rockville, Md., in which he cast the Republican Party as one that was dangerously consumed with anti-democratic forces that had turned toward “semi-fascism.”
“The MAGA Republicans don’t just threaten our personal rights and economic security,” Biden said, referencing former president Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan. “They’re a threat to our very democracy. They refuse to accept the will of the people. They embrace — embrace — political violence. They don’t believe in democracy.”
“This is why in this moment, those of you who love this country — Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans — we must be stronger,” he added.
As if on cue, the rally was interrupted by a heckler yelling, “You stole the election!” The crowd booed as the man was escorted out, holding his two fingers up like President Richard M. Nixon and taking a brief bow.
Earlier in the evening, speaking at a reception that helped raise $1 million for Democratic campaigns, Biden more pointedly raised concerns about American democracy and the Republicans he views as a threat.
“What we’re seeing now is either the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy,” Biden said. “It’s not just Trump, it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the — I’m going to say something — it’s like semi-fascism.”
Bringing up Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and his frequent interactions with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden also criticized his predecessor for weakening the United States on the global stage.
“I underestimated how much damage the previous four years had done in terms of America’s reputation in the world,” the president said.
The rhetoric was an escalation for Biden and an indication that he views the threat as greater than just Trump and an ideology that shows little sign of abating. It marked a transition as well, as the president turned more pointedly toward the midterm elections and attempted not only to tout his own record but to create a sharper contrast with the opposing party.
“I want to be crystal-clear about what’s on the ballot this year,” he said near the start of his remarks, during which he removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. “Your right to choose is on the ballot this year. The Social Security you paid for from the time you had a job is on the ballot. The safety of our kids from gun violence is on the ballot.”
“The very survival of our planet is on the ballot,” he added. “Your right to vote is on the ballot. Even democracy. Are you ready to fight for these things now?”
A spokesman for the Republican National Committee criticized Biden for his remarks, including his use of the term “semi-fascism.”
“Despicable,” Nathan Brand, an RNC spokesman, said in response. “Biden forced Americans out of their jobs, transferred money from working families to Harvard lawyers and sent our country into a recession while families can’t afford gas and groceries. Democrats don’t care about suffering Americans — they never did.”
Earlier in the evening, the White House used its official Twitter account to point toward comments from Republican lawmakers that they viewed as hypocritical — a level of partisan combativeness that Biden’s administration has often avoided.
After Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), speaking to conservative outlet Newsmax, said it was “completely unfair” for Biden to forgive some student debt, the White House reminded Greene on Twitter that she had $183,504 in Paycheck Protection Program loans forgiven.
It continued with a number of other lawmakers — including Reps. Vern Buchanan (Fla.), Mike Kelly (Pa.) and Markwayne Mullin (Okla.) — with the White House noting the hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt those Republicans, who criticized the student loan forgiveness program, had forgiven through PPP.
During the rally Thursday night, Biden’s midterm message also emerged as one centered on a story of recovery. He painted a picture of a country that’s rising from the depths of a global pandemic and economic devastation.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said, in what amounted to a campaign slogan in a high school gymnasium where some in the crowd held signs that read “A Better America.”
The question that will loom over the next few months is whether voters agree that the country is moving forward and whether Democrats remain motivated, particularly at a time when most candidates in competitive races have been avoiding Biden and not asking him to campaign with them.
Biden urged his party to turn out in large numbers, in part by trying to convince them of the unfinished business he wants to get done. In an indication of his struggles to deal with two Democratic senators who often thwart him — Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — he said: “If we elect two more senators, we keep the House … we’re going to get a lot of unfinished business done.”
He said they would codify the Roe v. Wade abortion protections, ban assault weapons, pass universal prekindergarten, restore the child tax credit and pass voting rights protections.
But Biden grew most animated when criticizing Republicans and expressing astonishment over the direction the party has headed.
“There are not many real Republicans anymore,” he said, adding that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan “is a Republican you can deal with.”
“I respect conservative Republicans,” he added. “I don’t respect these MAGA Republicans.”
For a president who has often avoided discussing his predecessor — referring to him at some points as “the former guy” — Biden shed much of that reluctance Thursday.
“Donald Trump isn’t just a former president,” Biden said. “He is a defeated former president!”
“It’s not hyperbole,” he added. “Now you need to vote to literally save democracy again.”