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Biden casts himself as the presidential candidate for freedom

The Democrat is shaping the 2024 election as a moral battle for the ‘soul of America,’ which he says is at risk from Trump’s ‘MAGA Republicans’

Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden during an act at the White House last Thursday.KEVIN LAMARQUE (REUTERS)

U.S. President Joe Biden is fond of repeating a phrase he heard his father once say: “Don’t compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative.” Biden said this again on Tuesday in a hotel in Washington, a few hours after officially announcing his reelection bid. In the case of the 2024 election, the alternative — barring any surprises — is Donald Trump, who is the favorite to win the Republican presidential primaries. But Biden believes that he is in a position to defeat him. “I may not be the only one, but, I know him well and I know the danger he presents to our democracy and we’ve been down this road before,” he said Wednesday at a press conference in the White House rose garden.

The word “alternative” is one of a handful of messages that Biden repeats over and over again, almost obsessively. These messages worked for him in the 2020 presidential campaign, the 2021 midterm elections, and now he is hoping they will help him win the 2024 election. To this repertoire, Biden has added a new slogan: “Finish the job” — which he has repeated dozens of times — as well as a word that is more closely associated with the Republican Party: “Freedom.”

That’s the first word Biden says in the video announcing his campaign for president, which opens with footage of pro-Trump protesters storming the Capitol. In that video, the president also repeats another one of his key messages. “When I ran for president four years ago, I said we are in a battle for the soul of America. And we still are,” he says in a voice-over narration. “The question we are facing is whether in the years ahead we have more freedom or less freedom. More rights or fewer.”

Biden’s first television ad builds on this message, focusing on his values rather than the achievements of his administration. In the 90-second spot, the president says he spent his first term fighting for democracy and that it is time again to defend it against Trump and his extremists “MAGA Republican” allies. “For freedom, for democracy, for America — Joe Biden,” the ad concludes.

The presidency gives Biden an undoubted advantage. He can spend time touring the country and touting his administration’s achievements at government acts, highlighting milestones such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law; the CHIPS and Science Act, which increases semiconductor funding; and the Inflation Reduction Act, which is a sweeping climate, tax and health package. What’s more, while taking advantage of his position in the White House, he can also oppose Trump.

Some 70% of voters (including 51% of Democrats) don’t want Biden to run for reelection. But 60% are also opposed to Trump being on the ballot. And, more importantly, of those who are against both candidates, the majority prefer Biden. Democrats have closed ranks around Biden — including leftist Bernie Sanders — as they believe he has the best chance of defeating Trump. It is a campaign of opposition. Biden vs. Trump. Trump vs. Biden.

E. Jean Carroll arrives at the federal court in New York with a protester with signs against former president Donald Trump.
E. Jean Carroll arrives at the federal court in New York with a protester with signs against former president Donald Trump.Associated Press/LaPresse (Associated Press/LaPresse)

The president not only has the advantage of being in office, he is also likely to benefit from the spate of scandals and court cases facing Trump. Biden announced his candidacy on Tuesday and held an event with unions and construction unions. On Wednesday, he received a state visit from South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol. On Thursday, he welcomed children visiting the White House. And on Friday, he took part in an act with the military.

Trump’s agenda has been very different. On Monday, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis asked police to “prepare” for when she announces her charging decisions on whether Trump and his allies interfered in Georgia’s 2020 election. On Tuesday, the rape lawsuit against Trump brought by journalist E. Jean Carroll went to trial. And on Wednesday, she testified: “I’m here because Donald Trump raped me.” Carroll continued to testify Thursday — the same day that former vice president Mike Pence testified before a grand jury investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. That night, Trump — the first former or incumbent U.S. president to ever be indicted — called Biden “the most corrupt president in American history.”

Trump also tried to call into question Biden’s ability by joking that he is becoming senile. Biden is the first octogenarian president in the history of the United States, and if reelected, will be 86 years old by the end of the second mandate. Biden will be 81 when he heads into the 2024 elections on November 5, but Trump will be 78. He is not a young man, either.

In addition to giving a bigger role to Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden has chosen to downplay the concerns about his age and has even made fun of himself. In an event with the president of South Korea, he said that he does not even remember how old he is. On Thursday, when asked by children at the White House why he wanted to be president, Biden joked: “Well, you know, when I was younger, 120 years ago.” “My younger sister used to be three years younger than me. Now, she’s 23 years younger,” he joked again, sparking more laughter. And on Friday, with the military, he again made fun of himself: “About 65 years ago, during the first remarks to the first class of the Air Force Academy, President Eisenhower — I wasn’t there — no matter what the press says.”

Biden first ran in the Democratic presidential primaries 35 years ago, in 1988. He failed that year and also in 2008, when Barack Obama chose him as his running mate. Now the field is clear: his only rivals are two minor candidates, who are unlikely to make a dent in his campaign. Biden can focus solely on defeating the Republican Party as he heads towards the last big battle of his long political career. If he follows the script of Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, he will leave the rallies for last, and in the meantime, campaign from the office of president.

Former president Donald Trump, during a campaign event in Manchester (New Hampshire), last Thursday.
Former president Donald Trump, during a campaign event in Manchester (New Hampshire), last Thursday.SPENCER PLATT (Getty Images via AFP)

Trump, meanwhile, is the favorite to win the Republican presidential primaries, but his campaign is spending money on attacking Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is considered Trump’s main rival. DeSantis has fallen flat in the polls, but is expected to launch his run for the White House in the first half of June. Trump’s popularity among Republican voters rose following his indictment on charges relating to hush money porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. But there are 18 months to go until the election, and it’s unlikely that Trump’s scandals, court appearances and possible other indictments will help him win over moderate and independent voters, who can tip the balance in a presidential election.

Those are the voters Biden is appealing to. “It’s very simple: We need you. Our democracy needs you because this is about our freedoms. MAGA Republicans are trying to take us backwards, but together we’re not going to let them do it,” he said at another act last week.

The president is driving home the idea that the United States is at a turning point that will define its future. Jill Biden, the first lady, has also entered the campaign. “Every few years, we tell Americans that this is the most important election of their lives. And every year, we’re right — because the fight for freedom has no end. The fight for democracy, for America has no end,” she said on Thursday.

Biden’s approval ratings began sinking in the first half of his term due to high inflation, which has now started to ease. Unemployment has already hit its lowest figure in half a century, but economists fear there may be a recession later this year, which could impact Biden at the polls. In launching his campaign, however, Biden has preferred to present the 2024 election as a moral battle.

“In a bizarre way, all we got to do is point out, in many cases, comparison with what these guys want to do,” Biden said in reference to “MAGA Republicans,” at a Friday event with his top donors, who must finance the most expensive presidential campaign in history. The president brought them together at the luxurious Salamander Hotel in Washington, which has unparalleled views of the statue to Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, another defender of freedom.

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