President Biden’s speeches denouncing “MAGA” Republicans have succeeded in firing up Democrats but it also stirred up a hornets’ nest of outrage among conservatives.
Whether it drives moderate Republicans toward or away from Mr. Trump and GOP candidates associated with his brand, political analysts say, is the wager Mr. Biden has accepted.
New polls show a mixed picture of voter reaction to Mr. Biden’s unprecedented speech in Philadelphia, in which he stood outside Independence Hall and declared “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”
Mr. Biden wasn’t just targeting the former president.
Political analysts believe the speech was aimed not only at Mr. Trump but also at making the Republican Party appear toxic to voters ahead of the critical 2022 midterm elections in November when the majorities of the House and Senate could flip to the GOP.
Analysts are just beginning to delve into how the speech — and several follow-up speeches in which he doubled down on the hot rhetoric — could impact the upcoming election and Mr. Trump’s political prospects.
Nathan L. Gonzales, editor and publisher of the non-partisan Inside Elections, said it is impossible to predict whether Mr. Biden’s attack on MAGA Republicans will push voters toward or away from Mr. Trump.
“Up to this point, if a Democrat attacks Trump, the majority of Republicans will defend him in the face of criticism from a common enemy,” Mr. Gonzales said. “Support for Trump in a hypothetical 2024 primary race looks different because there are other Republican choices in that fight, not whether you support the Democratic side or Republican side.”
The Biden speech, which described MAGA Republicans as supportive of “the mob that stormed the United States Capitol” could push mainstream Republicans away from Mr. Trump because it highlighted some of the more extreme elements of the Trump fan base.
“They don’t want to see Trump attacked but they don’t want to be affiliated with the Oath Keepers and insurrectionists,” Mr. Gonzales said.
A Trafalgar Group Poll of likely midterm voters released following Mr. Biden’s Philadelphia speech found more than 89% of Republicans and 62% of independents believe the remarks “represent a dangerous escalation of rhetoric and is designed to incite conflict amongst Americans.”
But those feelings may not translate into more support for Mr. Trump.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Sept. 8 found that 59% of respondents said Mr. Biden’s speech would further divide the country. But among Republican voters, 60% said they don’t think Trump’s MAGA movement represents the majority of the party.
Among all respondents, 58% said Trump’s Make America Great Again movement is “threatening America’s democratic foundations.” Only 25% of Republican respondents agreed with that statement.
Mr. Trump hasn’t announced a third bid for president but has repeatedly teased that he’ll be a candidate.
New polling taken after Mr. Biden’s speech show Mr. Trump’s popularity remains basically unchanged: His unfavorable rating has held steady at around 56%.
In a YouGov/Economist poll taken two days after the Philadelphia speech, Mr. Trump’s base remained lukewarm about him running again. While 57% of 2020 Trump voters want the former president to run for another term in 2024, 43% were either unsure or opposed to him running.
Among key independent voters, only 25% said they want Mr. Trump on the ballot in 2024.
Despite telling reporters he did not consider every Trump voter a threat to the country, Mr. Biden has for the most part doubled down on his attack on the MAGA wing of the GOP.
“Those who love this country must be more committed to saving our democracy than the MAGA agenda is to destroying it,” the president tweeted on Sept 7.
The next day, in remarks at a Democratic National Committee event in Maryland, Mr. Biden said America is at an inflection point. “The extreme set of MAGA Republicans has chosen to go backward, full of anger, violence, hate and division.”
He added that “not every Republican is a MAGA Republican,” and he said that not every member of the GOP “embraces extreme ideology” and that there are still a few “mainstream” Republicans left.
It’s not clear who Mr. Biden meant to target in referencing the MAGA agenda, but in a press conference last week, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the MAGA agenda “is one of the most extreme agendas that we have seen” and that those who back it “are threatening political violence and they are attacking our democracy.”
Analysts have tried to narrow the MAGA wing of the party to those who believe the 2020 election results were rigged in favor of Mr. Biden, or who support the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a bid to stop Congress from certifying the election results.
But for those who support Mr. Trump, the MAGA agenda has nothing to do with those things. They say the MAGA agenda calls for stronger border security, lowering crime and economic policies that create jobs, cut inflation and keep energy abundant and inexpensive.
Republicans are banking on those issues remaining the most important to voters in November.
“Biden calling half the country ‘extremists,’ while inflation soars, grocery prices rise, and crime skyrockets is not the ‘unity’ that was promised,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican and Trump ally. “Joe Biden should quit blaming ‘MAGA Republicans’ and get to working on the economy he ruined.”