'Extremist threat to our democracy': What Biden hopes to accomplish in prime-time speech Thursday

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will argue democracy is at stake amid rising threats of political violence during a speech Thursday night less than 70 days before the midterm elections.

Biden is set to deliver the remarks at 8 p.m. ET outside Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia in what will be the president's second of three trips to Pennsylvania – a crucial Senate battleground – over a one-week stretch.

A more combative Biden emerges

  • The political backdrop: Although the speech is not considered a campaign event, it comes as Biden is embarking on a travel blitz in early September to multiple battleground states, including Ohio and Wisconsin, in addition to Pennsylvania.

  • Biden goes on the attack: A new Biden is emerging, one more willing to attack Republicans who deny 2020 election results, remain aligned with former President Donald Trump and are criticizing the FBI amid its investigation into classified documents found at Trump's Mar-a-Lago home.

  • "Whose side are you on?" Biden introduced new combative rhetoric at a Democratic fundraiser and rally in Maryland last week, accusing "MAGA Republicans" of "semi-fascism." He called Republican attacks on the FBI "sickening" in a fiery speech Tuesday in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and called out Republicans who refuse to condemn the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. "For God's sake, whose side are you on?" he said.

  • High on voters' minds: A NBC News poll last week found that 21% of voters said "threats to democracy" were the top issue facing the country, above the economy, immigration and climate change.

  • Why Philadelphia? Philadelphia is known as the birthplace of American democracy and where Biden launched his 2020 presidential campaign. The president expected to reintroduce the central argument of his 2020 run by framing the stakes as "the continued battle for the soul of the nation."

Stream it: How to watch President Joe Biden's Philadelphia prime-time speech on Thursday

President Joe Biden speaks at the Arnaud C. Marts Center on the campus of Wilkes University, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) ORG XMIT: PAMS329
President Joe Biden speaks at the Arnaud C. Marts Center on the campus of Wilkes University, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) ORG XMIT: PAMS329

What's next?

Biden is shifting into campaign mode with upcoming travel to states that could decide whether Democrats maintain control of the Senate.

The president will travel to Pittsburgh and Milwaukee on Monday to attend Labor Day parades. He'll visit Ohio for the groundbreaking of a new Intel semiconductor manufacturing facility on Sept. 9.

These visits will test Biden's political sway just as his approval ratings begin to rebound after a year of crises and setbacks.

'Soul of the nation': Biden to give prime-time speech Thursday on 'continued battle for the soul of the nation' in Philadelphia

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Biden and Democrats are out to label Republicans as increasingly extreme. It's why Biden adopted a new name to define the opposition: "ultra-MAGA Republicans" – a reference to the political movement spawned by his predecessor.

But that's just one layer of the strategy.

Midterm elections are historically referendums on the incumbent president. Republicans prefer that framing this November. Although Biden's approval rating has increased after a series of legislative wins in Congress and declining gas prices, a majority of Americans still disapprove of his job performance.

Democrats want to avoid a referendum by making the election about much more – abortion rights, the survival of Social Security, climate and even democracy itself.

More: Why Biden is blasting the 'ultra MAGA' agenda, not Donald Trump, in his midterm push

Two factors have helped their cause and produced a highly unusual midterm election cycle: The Supreme Court's decision's to overturn Roe v. Wade energized Democrats who might otherwise be unenthused about voting. And the continued presence of former President Donald Trump – who is under FBI investigation for his possession of classified documents and is openly considering a 2024 run for president – has kept his "Make America Great Again" movement the focus of Democratic attacks.

With his speech Thursday, Biden wants to raise the stakes of the coming election even higher.

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What they are saying

  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden believes what he calls "MAGA Republicans" represent an "extremist threat to our democracy," freedoms and rights. "They just don't respect the rule of law," she said.

  • Biden previewed a likely theme of the speech in remarks from Maryland last week: "The MAGA Republicans don’t just threaten our personal rights and economic security, they’re a threat to our very democracy. They refuse to accept the will of the people. They embrace political violence. They don’t believe in democracy."

  • Cedric Richmond, a senior Democratic National Committee adviser and former Biden aide, said the overturning of Roe, accusations of election subversion and voter suppression, and Republicans who still challenge Trump's loss in the 2020 election are examples of a democracy under threat. "He's drawing a contrast to the extreme wing of the Republican Party that is a true threat to democracy," Richmond said. "I think that is what he will talk about."

  • "He's trying to go on offense for November," said Matthew Kerbel, a political science professor at Villanova University, pointing to polls showing rising concerns about the fate of democracy. "I suspect he's going to connect that to the choice people have coming up. Maybe not explicitly, because it's a White House event, not a campaign event, but I think the message will be clear."

Why it matters

Democrats, who once seemed on track for a potentially disastrous midterm election, have found new reason for optimism after special-election victories in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.

Democratic Senate candidates in key battlegrounds such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia are leading Republicans, according to the Real Clear Politics polling averages.

And with Biden’s speech Thursday, the president will lay the groundwork for the weeks ahead.

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What will Biden speak about during his primetime speech Thursday