Nov 3, 2022 - Podcasts

"Democracy is on the ballot": Biden's warning

President Biden gave a speech on Wednesday evening unlike one we've ever seen from a president days ahead of the midterm elections. He urged voters to recognize what is at stake next Tuesday.

  • Plus, the rise of the extreme right in Israel and the return of Netanyahu.

Guest: Axios' Hans Nichols and Barak Ravid.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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Editor’s note: This has been corrected to reflect that Netanyahu’s win in Israel had not been official when the episode first posted.


NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday, November 3rd.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today: President Biden’s dark warning days before the midterm election.

JOE BIDEN: We must vote knowing who we’ve been, what we're at risk of becoming.

Plus, the rise of the extreme right in Israel – and the return of Netanyahu. But first, Democracy on the ballot – that’s today’s One Big Thing.

Democracy on the ballot

JOE BIDEN: We the people must decide whether we're gonna sustain a republic where reality is accepted. The law is obeyed and your vote is truly sacred.

NIALA: President Biden gave a speech last night, unlike one we've ever heard from a president days ahead of the midterms.

JOE BIDEN: Democracy is on the ballot for all of us. We must remember that democracy is a covenant.

NIALA: Axios’ Hans Nichols is here with the big picture. What did you hear from the White House about why President Biden felt last night's speech was necessary Hans?

HANS NICHOLS: Well look, this has been bubbling for a while. I think ultimately he kind of heard it from the president himself though, and that is that Paul Pelosi is on his mind.The husband and the speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was attacked in his own home, and he drew this direct line, this direct link between the attack on Pelosi, the assault on the capital, and President Trump's refusal to accept the election results.

NIALA: Who do you think was the intended audience?

HANS: He's talking to his base. He's trying, rile them up. He's trying to energize them. He's always, presidents tend to broadcast always to Independents. He wants to make sure that he gets the Independents and have them understand what he used to be the stakes of the election, and have that same coalition that he, that, you know, delivered the White House for him in 2020. I think the third audience is history. If the election results aren't accepted and America is at the beginning of something much more sinister and troubling, then we might look back to this speech as an important moment a, an important call.

NIALA: He gave a warning about the election deniers up and down the ballot across the country. How much of this was about getting those election deniers to accept the results if they lose.

HANS: So yes, he was putting on notice. I don't think the White House is under a whole lot of illusions that they can really convince die hard Trump's supporters and Trump aligned Republicans, because remember, he's called them or suggested that they're semi fascists. And we all know that politicians have high opinions of their ability to persuade, but if you're calling the other side semi fascist, you probably don't think you're necessarily going to reach them with, you know, a primetime address that maybe wasn't covered by the channels that they tend to watch.

NIALA: So far as the president pointed out, 27 million Americans have already cast their ballots in the midterms. In states like Georgia and Michigan that's approaching record midterm voting levels. Does that mean that Americans are getting the message about the importance of voting?

HANS: That's a great question. I just don't think we can know that until we have the vote totals from both, you know, early and in person. So if overall turnout is at record levels in 2022, higher than 2020 that's gonna be interesting. The bigger question is this midterm election is gonna look more like a general election with higher turnout, then ultimately that will probably be good for the president's party. I don't necessarily think we're going to see any huge deviations from sort of standard turnout models. But again, I probably shouldn't make any sort of predictions in November.

NIALA: What else stood out to you about last night?

HANS: Oh, just the location, right? I mean this is a president that hasn't traveled that much during the midterms. He's a little bit constricted on where it can go cause a lot of vulnerable candidates don't wanna appear with him. But you know, he was in the you know, within a seven minute walk to the capital from where he is speaking at Union Station. And so, you know, I suspect this kind of gets remembered as the Union Station speech. That's my own little shorthand for it already. And there, it could be exceedingly important or it could be totally forgotten and I just don't think we know the answer to that yet.

NIALA: Hans Nichols covers the White House for Axios. Thanks Hans.

HANS: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: In a moment, how the extreme right has taken hold in Israel.


The rise of the extreme right in Israel and the return of Netanyahu

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is close to winning the Israeli election with the help of a right wing bloc. The victory is an unprecedented rise for the extreme right. Here to explain what that looks like in Israel is Axios’ Barak Ravid joining us from Tel Aviv.

Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu who was not always associated with the far right and Jewish supremacists. What changed in this election?

BARAK RAVID: Netanyahu was sort of the middle of the road conservative politician. Maybe even a John McCain type of politician. But then since 2015 he started to radicalize and one of the reasons for his radicalization is that police investigations that started against him in cases of corruption which led to his indictments in bribe, breach of trust and fraud. In the 2019 election, what happened was that he ran in the election while he was indicted, and more and more politicians said, you know, we're not gonna sit with this guy in the same government.

And this started the political crisis we've been going through in the last three and a half years, which led to five election campaigns. And, Netanyahu found himself dependent on the right and then on the extreme right, and then on the most radical elements in the right, because that's whoever he had left. And in the process, he normalized people that until a few years ago, he wouldn't even be caught in the same picture with.

NIALA: So when you say extreme and radicalized, and when we say Jewish supremacist, like what does the Jewish Power Party stand for?

BARAK: It's very similar to what you mean when you say a White supremacist. When you take all the noise out and you look at the very basic fundamentals, it's the same kind of racism, xenophobia, misogyny. But here in Israel it's mainly connected to the Arab minority or to Palestinians in the West Bank. And when you look at who's who in those parties is pretty amazing.

Itamar Ben-Gvir is a guy who was convicted for supporting a terrorist organization. And his partner in this party, Bezalel Smotrich, who wants to be the Minister of Defense. He was arrested doing the Gaza disengagement, under suspicion of trying to organize a terror attack. And, several years ago, the same Smotrich held an anti-gay parade. And then they have their third friend, a guy called Avi Maoz who is leading a very, very small fringe, religious party called Noam. And their sole purpose is to promote anti-gay and anti-women legislation. And all those people just won 14 seats. They're the third biggest party in the government. They have huge leverage over Netanyahu, who needs them in order to try and stop his trial.

NIALA: How did parties with such extreme ideologies end up with 14 seats?

BARAK: I think it had to do a lot with the war we had in Gaza in May last year. And I think that opened the door for people like Ben-Gvir to come and say, you know what, I'm a law and order guy. I will show them who's the boss, who's the real owner of this place. And again, you know, the same slogans from politicians in America. I think that you know all this together became this hotbed for Ben-Gvir to basically get a lot of voters that never voted for the extreme right. And some of them are first time voters, he was very popular with soldiers, or with you know,18 or 19 year olds that vote for the first time and saw his videos on Tik Tok. And this is how he basically managed to bring between two to three seats that were never part of the right wing bloc. And he basically gave the victory to Netanyahu.

NIALA: So what does this new Israeli government mean for the future of Israel?

BARAK: Well I think it rings a bell to our listeners right now that find a lot of similarities from this and the situation in America because it has a lot of similarities. And people on both sides feel that the other side got nothing to do with them. And when this is the case, nothing good can come out of it for any country.

NIALA: Barak Ravid is Axios’ contributing correspondent based in Tel Aviv. Thanks Barak.

BARAK: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! Special thanks to Erica Pandey and Emily Peak for filling in while I was out longer than I thought because I finally got Covid. Don’t worry, I’m doing okay. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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