Opinion With Trump’s help, Biden makes the GOP play defense


HR King
May 29, 2001
By E.J. Dionne Jr.
Columnist |
August 31, 2022 at 5:42 p.m. EDT

Elections and substantive policy battles alike are often decided by which side is playing offense and which is forced onto the defensive.
This week, President Biden is signaling that the Democrats’ strategy for this fall’s elections is moving sharply toward the attack. With a speech Tuesday about law enforcement and public safety, he challenged Republicans on ground the GOP thought it owned. And in a prime-time address Thursday, he plans to bring the survival of democracy itself to the center of the 2022 campaign.
Sign up for a weekly roundup of thought-provoking ideas and debates
The new emphasis reflects two major hinge points in shifting the public conversation. The House hearings highlighted Donald Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. And many Republicans have embraced extremism in their condemnations of the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home for secret government documents.
Trump’s lawless possession of those documents, along with his party’s efforts to minimize it, is making a hash of the GOP’s law-and-order slogans. And the former president’s omnipresence in the news has short-circuited Republican hopes of making Biden’s unpopularity the centerpiece of the 2022 midterm campaign. That will become even harder if Biden’s ratings stay on the upswing.

Day by day, Trump is making the playing field ever more difficult for his party, to the still-mostly-private consternation of many of its leaders.
His decision to go to court to seek a special master to sift through documents taken by the FBI allowed the Justice Department to offer a scathing 36-page response Tuesday night.
The court filing underscored the sensitivity of the documents that Trump refused to turn over, forcing the search, and pointed to evidence that “government records were likely concealed and removed.” This, the brief said, provided evidence “that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.”
Trump loyalists are increasingly pressing Republicans to defend the indefensible — and to talk about the man many of them would rather see disappear into the shadows.
Biden, who has been reluctant for much of his term to mention Trump and has often stressed his dreams of bipartisanship, is ramping up the pressure.
Six months ago, the president’s Tuesday address on crime and law enforcement in Wilkes Barre, Pa., would have been seen as a largely self-protective response to the GOP’s success in branding Democrats as the “defund-the-police” party soft on lawbreakers.
While Biden reiterated his consistent opposition to the defund idea, his address ended with rousing attacks on Republican calls to “defund the FBI” and a denunciation of the Trump-inspired Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
“Don’t tell me you support law enforcement if you won’t condemn what happened on the sixth,” he shouted. “For God’s sake, whose side are you on?”
Without mentioning Sen. Lindsey Graham by name, he assailed the South Carolina Republican’s barely veiled threat that there would be “riots in the streets” if the Justice Department tried to prosecute Trump for illegally holding and potentially hiding documents.
“No one expects politics to be a patty cake,” Biden said. “It sometimes gets mean as hell. But the idea you turn on a television and see senior senators and congressmen saying, ‘If such-and-such happens, there’ll be blood in the street’? Where the hell are we?”
Biden’s advisers see Thursday’s democracy speech as linked to Tuesday’s in returning to the central theme of his 2020 campaign. They note that Biden previewed his “battle for the soul of this nation” rallying cry almost exactly five years ago in an essay in the Atlantic.
But the idea of making the protection and advancement of democracy a central 2022 election theme has been controversial among Democratic Party strategists, a significant share of whom insist that voters care more about bread-and-butter issues.
Of course, economics always matter in elections. But partly because of the flow of news, the topic of democracy is now in the ascendancy, bolstered by a recent NBC News poll showing “threats to democracy” surpassing inflation as the top 2022 issue. An analysis conducted by Hart Research at my request found that 42 percent of voters supporting Democratic congressional candidates listed threats to democracy as one of their top two issues, compared with only 20 percent of those backing Republicans.
Biden has clearly moved in this direction himself. “The president truly sees this as an inflection point and feels that, as the leader of the country, he needs to clearly articulate the nature of the threat to democracy, especially increased threats of violence for political purposes,” one adviser told me. “This is a time when the dominant wing of the Republican Party refuses to commit to free and fair elections, and refuses to commit to respecting them in the future.”
The paradox of American politics is that the putatively conservative party now finds itself reviling established institutions, threatening political violence and, in the Trump documents case, embracing the wrong side of national security. It’s no wonder that Republicans are playing defense in an election that once seemed theirs for the asking.


Latest posts