Kelly Hawes: Biden has important message to deliver

Six out of 10 Republicans in a recent survey say they don’t think former President Donald J. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement represents a majority of the party.

That same Reuters/Ipsos survey found 58 percent of respondents saying the former president’s movement is threatening our nation’s democratic foundations.

That number included one in four Republicans.

Those are the people President Joseph R. Biden should be trying to reach.

In his recent speech at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, Biden insisted he was speaking not as a Republican or a Democrat, but as an American.

“And I believe it is my duty — my duty to level with you, to tell the truth no matter how difficult, no matter how painful,” he said.

The truth, he said, is that Donald Trump’s most loyal followers do not respect the Constitution.

“They do not believe in the rule of law,” Biden said. “They do not recognize the will of the people.”

He wasn’t talking about an entire political party, he said.

“I want to be very clear, very clear up front,” Biden said. “Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology.”

MAGA forces, he said, are determined to take our country backward.

“They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country,” Biden said. “They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on January 6th — brutally attacking law enforcement — not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger to the throat of our democracy, but they look at them as patriots.”

The president offered a stark warning: We might think American democracy is guaranteed, but it’s not.

“We have to defend it, protect it, stand up for it,” he said. “Each and every one of us. That’s why tonight I’m asking our nation to come together, unite behind the single purpose of defending our democracy regardless of your ideology.”

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. liked the president’s message. He acknowledged Biden might have gotten carried away with his Democratic talking points, but he insisted the core message of the speech was on the money.

“The only way to force the Republican Party to break decisively with Trumpism is to defeat it in an election the party was supposed to win,” Dionne wrote. “Is this ‘partisan’?

Absolutely. But it’s not Biden’s fault that Republicans continue to play footsie with the document hoarder of Mar-a-Lago.”

The speech had its critics. Dan McLaughlin of the National Review called it a disaster.

“It was a speech that couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, delivered by a man who didn’t believe it,” McLaughlin wrote.

The president, he said, had a number of options.

“Did he want to use the moral authority of the presidency to speak in nonpartisan terms about a threat to the country?” McLaughlin asked. “Did he want to give an arch-partisan speech denouncing the other party’s leadership?”

The president had so many choices to make, McLaughlin said. Perhaps he should lay out a contrast between the two parties on social issues, or maybe he should offer a laundry list of his own accomplishments.

“Yes, he wanted to do all those things,” McLaughlin said, “so he tried to cram them all into a 3,000-word speech that stepped on its own messages.”

McLaughlin is clearly no fan of Biden, but he has a point. If the president truly wants to reach across the partisan divide, he needs to scale back the campaign rhetoric and focus on the core message: Our democracy is under threat.

Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana. This column is shared via Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to [email protected]