WASHINGTON — The excellent news is that deeply divided Americans agree on at the very least one thing. The bad news is that they share the view that their nearly two-and-a-half-century-old democracy is at risk — and disagree drastically about who’s threatening it.
In a remarkable consensus, a latest Quinnipiac University poll found that 69 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans say that democracy is “at risk of collapse.” But one side blames former President Donald J. Trump and his “MAGA Republicans” while the opposite fingers President Biden and the “socialist Democrats.”
So when the president delivers a warning concerning the fate of democracy as he did on Thursday night, the general public hears two vastly different messages, underscoring deep rifts in American society that make it an almost ungovernable moment within the nation’s history. Not only do Americans diverge sharply over necessary issues like abortion, immigration and the economy, they see the world in fundamentally different and incompatible ways.
“Sadly, we have now gotten away from a typical understanding that democracy is a process and doesn’t necessarily guarantee the outcomes your side wants, that even in case your team loses an election, you may fight to your policies one other day,” said Michael Abramowitz, the president of Freedom House, a gaggle that promotes democracy globally and recently has expressed concern for it at home as well. “That’s an enormous challenge for the president, but additionally for all politicians.”
The chasm between these two Americas makes Mr. Biden’s task all of the more pronounced. While he once aspired to bridge that divide after he evicted Mr. Trump from the Oval Office, Mr. Biden has been surprised, in accordance with advisers, at just how enduring his predecessor’s grip on the Republican Party has been.
And so, as a substitute of bringing Americans together, the president’s goal has essentially evolved into ensuring that nearly all of the country that opposes Mr. Trump is fully alert to the threat that the previous president still poses — and energized or scared enough to do something about it, most immediately within the upcoming midterm elections.
That calculation meant that Mr. Biden knew he can be hit for abandoning his stance because the president who would unite the country. With the legislative season principally over pending the election, he not needed to fret about offending Republican members of Congress he might must pass bipartisan bills. As an alternative, he has communicated with voters much as he did in 2020, reaching out especially to suburban women and other key groups in swing states like Pennsylvania.
The Republicans’ response to Mr. Biden’s speech was remarkable. For years, they stood quietly by as Mr. Trump vilified and demonized anyone who disagreed with him — encouraging supporters to beat up protesters; demanding that his rivals be arrested; accusing critics of treason and even murder; calling opponents “fascists”; and retweeting a supporter saying “the one good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” But they rose up as one on Thursday night and Friday to complain that Mr. Biden was the one being divisive.
“It’s unthinkable that a president would discuss half of Americans that way,” said Nikki Haley, who was Mr. Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations. “Leaders protect the Structure,” added Mike Pompeo, who was Mr. Trump’s secretary of state. “They don’t declare half of America to be enemies of the state like Joe Biden did last night.”
Aided by an eerie red speech backdrop, Republicans described Mr. Biden in dictatorial terms, as “if Mussolini and Hitler got together,” as Donald Trump Jr. put it.
On the subject of democracy in America, there is no such thing as a real equivalence, in fact. The elder Mr. Trump sought to make use of the ability of his office to overturn a democratic election, pressuring state and native officials, the Justice Department, members of Congress and his own vice chairman to disregard the need of the people to maintain him in office. When that didn’t work, he riled up a crowd that stormed the Capitol, disrupting the counting of Electoral College votes and threatening to execute those standing in Mr. Trump’s way.
Since leaving office, Mr. Trump has continued to demand that the election be reversed and even suggested that he be reinstated as president, all based on lies he tells his supporters about what happened in 2020. He has forced Republican officeholders and candidates to embrace his false claims and sought to put in election deniers in state positions where they’ll influence future vote counts.
When Mr. Trump’s supporters express fear for democracy with pollsters, it isn’t about those actions but about what Mr. Trump has told them about election integrity, even when what he says is flawed. In addition they see Mr. Biden’s administration as far too liberal, expanding government to the purpose that it is going to invariably restrain their very own freedoms.
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“There may be an actual difference in how the parties define democracy,” said Nicole Hemmer, a historian at Vanderbilt University and writer of “Partisans,” a newly published history of the rise of conservative movement figures within the Nineties and their transformation of American politics.
“The Republican Party in the intervening time subscribes to a much narrower definition, as is clear of their support for all the pieces from voter suppression to extensive gerrymandering to the appropriate of Republican officials to overturn voter preferences within the certification process,” she added. “The Democratic Party favors not only a more inclusive voting system but more robust systems to support majoritarian politics.”
In crafting his speech to be delivered at Independence Hall in Philadelphia for a national audience, Mr. Biden struggled with the query of easy methods to denounce those he deemed unconstitutional actors without disparaging everyone who disagreed with him, advisers said.
He stressed within the speech that he didn’t view all Republicans as “MAGA Republicans,” his term for Mr. Trump’s supporters. He tried to straddle that line again on Friday in response to a Fox News reporter who asked if he considered all of Mr. Trump’s supporters to be a threat to the country.
“I don’t consider any Trump supporter to be a threat to the country,” Mr. Biden replied. “I do think anyone who calls for the usage of violence, fails to sentence violence when it’s used, refuses to acknowledge when an election has been won, insists upon changing the way in which by which we rule and count votes — that may be a threat to democracy.”
But it surely was not clear if Mr. Biden would follow up his tough speech with any particular policy proposals. A day after the address, he hosted a round table with civil rights leaders on the White House to debate issues related to democracy, including voting rights restrictions.
“We’d like a democracy that doesn’t condone or allow or facilitate attacks by itself people, whether that be through voter suppression, whether that be what we saw throughout the Jan. 6 rebel, whether that be through police-state violence or whether or not it’s through white supremacy,” Damon Hewitt, the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said afterward.
Democratic strategists have spent months quietly amassing research on easy methods to brand the Republican Party as extremist during an election cycle when Mr. Trump isn’t on the ballot.
The project was the brainchild of Navin Nayak, the president of the Center for American Progress Motion Fund, the research arm of a Democratic-aligned think tank. Working with John D. Podesta, a former aide to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who was appointed Friday as a senior adviser to Mr. Biden, Mr. Nayak began with a key insight.
Republicans, the 2 men concluded, had been remarkably successful in defining the Democratic Party by its leftward-most pole. Lately, that has been represented by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who helpfully for Republicans calls himself a “democratic socialist.”
Republican strategists seized on the word “socialist,” spending tens of millions of dollars in television advertisements in places like Miami to appeal to Hispanic voters whose families had long and painful memories of leftist governments in Cuba and Venezuela. Within the 2020 election, Republicans picked off enough Hispanics to place Florida out of reach for Mr. Biden.
This yr, Democratic strategists aim to make use of the research Mr. Nayak commissioned from liberal polling firms and from SKDK, a public relations group known for its campaign work for Democratic clients, to define “MAGA Republicans” because the core of the Republican brand.
“It allows us to have a consistent story about Republicans regardless of what the subject is,” Mr. Nayak said in an interview.
Anita Dunn, a founding partner at SKDK who’s now on leave from the firm to function a senior adviser within the Biden White House, was a paid consultant on the project. Ms. Dunn and her staff developed mock 30-second television ads using Mr. Nayak’s research and tested them with voters. She didn’t reply to messages searching for comment on Friday.
With Mr. Trump driving day by day headlines, Democratic strategists said that they had a chance to link “MAGA Republicans” to a former president whose unpopularity has driven down the rankings of the general party, giving them a probability to carry onto Congress and governorships in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“What we have now is people who find themselves directly linked to Jan. 6, and due to this fact using Jan. 6 within the campaign is yet one more strategy to link them to extremism,” said Jefrey Pollock, the founding partner and the president of Global Strategy Group, one in every of two polling firms that conducted among the research.
That isn’t a message, because the Quinnipiac poll indicated, that can resonate with everyone. The query is whether or not it is going to resonate with enough Americans to make a difference.
Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.