In an interview that aired Sunday, President Joe Biden warned that the MAGA faction of the Republican Party — short for “Make America Great Again,” the now-infamous slogan of former President Donald Trump — poses a threat to democracy, and the 2024 election could be pivotal for the movement.
“I think that this is sort of the last gasp — or maybe the first big gasp — of the MAGA Republicans,” Biden told former CNN journalist John Harwood in an interview for ProPublica. “I think Trump has concluded that he has to win, and they’ll pull out all the stops.”
Biden went on to condemn Trump’s rhetoric — “I never thought I’d hear a president say some of the stuff he says — and drew a parallel to the state of affairs in the House of Representatives, which saw an uprising of far-right members nearly forcing a government shutdown by “bringing everything to a screeching halt.”
The president has defending American democracy a central focus of both his presidency and his 2024 presidential campaign. In Arizona last week, the president delivered his fourth such speech on the subject since taking office in 2021, warning that “there’s something dangerous happening in America right now.”
“There’s an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs of our democracy — the MAGA movement,” he said last week, later adding: “We should all remember, democracies don’t have to die at the end of a rifle. They can die when people are silent, when they fail to stand up or condemn threats to democracy, when people are willing to give away that which is most precious to them because they feel frustrated, disillusioned, tired, alienated.”
He also took umbrage with his predecessor’s rhetoric in that address, saying: “Trump says the Constitution gave him quote ‘the right to do whatever he wants as president. I’ve never even heard a president say that in jest.”
In the interview which aired Sunday, Biden similarly attacked Trump’s comments about what he says he’ll do should he regain the Oval Office.
“The things Trump says he will do are a threat to American democracy,” Biden said. “As I travel the world, I have heads of state asking me, conservative heads of state, ‘Look, what’s going to happen?’ Because democracy is in jeopardy in other parts of the world as well.
Referencing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s comments that the U.S. is “the indispensable nation,” Biden said that “if [democracy] fails here, Katy bar the door.”
Biden told Harwood that part of his desire to “focus on the fundamentals that our democracy is at stake” comes from his worry that the majority of Republicans are not taking the party back from the MAGA faction. The president has repeatedly stated that he does not believe that MAGA Republicans represent the majority of the party.
“I’m convinced that part of it is communicating to the American people that this is bigger than a political disagreement, it’s beyond it,” Biden said, adding that he believes it’s a reason why the 2020 and 2022 elections turned out the way that they did. Polling data shows that democracy was a major motivating factor for voters in last year’s midterms, which saw Democrats outperform expectations.
Harwood pressed Biden on whether he thinks threats to democracy means refusal to accept election results and blocking the transfer of power, or larger concepts like gerrymandering, the Senate filibuster rule, which has stymied some Democratic priorities in recent years, and the Electoral College, which has picked two Republican presidents that have lost the popular vote in the last decade.
“We should never, ever condone violence in a democracy,” Biden fired back, before discussing the underpinnings of American democracy — the Constitution, namely — and condemning some of Trump’s priorities that he has stated should he become president again.
“For example, he wants to change the way the civil service works, he wants a whole new category that is not answerable to the civil service rules, but only answerable to the president,” Biden said.
When asked by if he was confident that the Supreme Court could be relied on to uphold the rule of law, Biden replied that he worries.
“Because I know that if the other team, the MAGA Republicans, win, they don’t want to uphold the rule of law,” Biden said. “They want to get rid of the FBI — the things they say … somehow we’ve got to communicate to the American people that this is for real. This is real.”
But at the end of the day, Biden said he believes the high court, which he called “extreme,” would “sustain the rule of law.”