Jan 4, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden focuses on Jan. 6 to cast Trump as a threat to the U.S.

President Biden is shown wearing a blue blazer and a collared shirt.

President Biden on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden is betting that enough Americans are so appalled by Donald Trump's role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol that they won't let the former president back in the White House.

Why it matters: Biden aims to put the deadly assault on the Capitol at the center of his re-election campaign in the same way he portrayed the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville during the 2020 campaign: as a Trump-inspired threat to democracy.

Zoom in: In a speech at Valley Forge, Pa., on Friday, Biden will make clear that reminders of the Capitol riot and Trump's push to overturn the 2020 election will be constant themes in his 2024 campaign.

  • Senior campaign officials say that the venue is apt as it is where George Washington's army endured a frigid winter in 1777-1778 before uniting his army and fighting for democracy and freedom against the British--Biden will try to rally his party for a fight against "MAGA extremism."
  • Senior campaign officials also say Washington offers a contrast with Trump as he peacefully and voluntarily stepped down from power after his time in office.
  • Biden will speak again about the Jan. 6 riot on Monday at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. — a Black church where a white supremacist murdered nine people in 2015.
  • Biden will try to cast the November election as not just about large policy differences — but as an existential threat to the republic with Trump likely to be on the ballot.
  • In a call previewing the speeches, Biden campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez told reporters: "We are running a campaign like the fate of our democracy depends on it. Because it does."

Between the lines: Biden delivered speeches on Jan. 6 in 2022 and 2023, but his political rhetoric was restrained — never mentioning Trump by name as he condemned the events of that day.

  • This week his campaign has been more aggressive in tying Trump to the riot, mentioning him repeatedly.
  • Biden also hit Trump more explicitly on these issues in the months ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, telling supporters in Philadelphia that "Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic."

Biden's renewed focus on Jan. 6 is his campaign's latest acknowledgement that it expects Trump to be the GOP nominee for president — despite the felony charges Trump faces in four separate courts.

  • The Biden team also sees Jan. 6 as a way to surmount the president's low polling at a time when surveys indicate that a majority of voters — including many who agree with him on some issues — disapprove of Trump's actions on Jan. 6.
  • Even some of Trump's strongest defenders are uncomfortable defending his actions surrounding the Capitol riot, and often deflect to talk about areas in which they believe Biden has failed or argue that voters care more about issues such as the border and high prices.
  • In a recent Washington Post/University of Maryland poll, 53% of voters said Trump bore a great or good deal of responsibility for the attack on the Capitol.
  • That poll said 56% of voters believe Trump is probably or definitely guilty of committing crimes from trying to overturn the election, an issue at the center of two of the four felony indictments against him.

What they're saying: The Biden campaign declined to comment further and the Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

  • Earlier, Trump campaign spokesperson Jason Miller told Axios: "When is Biden going to the border?"

The big picture: The renewed focus on Trump's role in the Jan. 6 riot comes after several months in which Biden's team has emphasized his economic accomplishments.

  • During the next week, Biden and his campaign will try to link the Revolutionary War effort, the 2015 racist shooting at Mother Emanuel, and Jan. 6 in trying to cast Trump as a threat to the U.S. government and civil peace.
  • His speech Friday was originally scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 6, but moved up a day because of a threat of bad weather.
  • "Whether it is white supremacists descending on the historic American city of Charlottesville, the assault on our nation's Capitol on Jan. 6 or a white supremacist murdering churchgoers at Mother Emanuel nearly nine years ago, America is worried about the rise in political violence and determined to stand against it," said Quentin Fulks, Biden's principal deputy campaign manager.
  • The campaign says it's planning ads built around the speeches.

Flashback: Biden's campaign forecast his pivot to Jan. 6 in his re-election announcement video last April, which opened with violent images from that day.

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