Biden says he might not have run for reelection if not for threat of Trump

The president told campaign donors that the Republican must be stopped from winning the 2024 presidential election

U.S. President Joe Biden departs the White House in Washington on Tuesday.EVELYN HOCKSTEIN (Evelyn Hockstein)

Joe Biden once again considers stopping Donald Trump as his mission in life. Preventing the Republican from winning a second term in the White House was his main reason for entering the race four years ago. Biden defeated Trump, but all signs indicate that the showdown will be repeated for the 2024 presidential election. And that the president’s reason for running is the same. “We’ve got to get it done, not because of me... If Trump wasn’t running, I’m not sure I’d be running. We cannot let him win,” Biden said on Tuesday at a fundraising event in Weston, Massachusetts.

In the 2020 presidential election campaign, Biden defined himself as “a transitional candidate.” The president has just turned 81 and will be 86 by the time he ends a hypothetical second term. Due to his age, more importance was given to who he chose as his vice president, a role that eventually was given to Kamala Harris. There was speculation that whoever held that position would run for president in 2024, once Trump had disappeared from the political scene and the political polarization had eased.

Trump, however, not only continues to argue that the 2020 elections were stolen from him, but he has also managed to convince the vast majority of Republican voters of these false allegations. Trump is the favorite to win the Republican primaries and is also leading the polls for the presidential elections. Meanwhile, Kamala Harris has not won over voters, and Biden believes that he is once again the person with the best chance of defeating Trump. “I may not be the only one, but I know him well and I know the danger he presents to our democracy,” Biden said in April at a White House press conference.

When the Democrats did better than expected in the November 2022 midterm elections, Biden had still not confirmed that he would run for re-election. He said that he planned to make the decision in early 2023, and even then stressed the importance of stopping Trump from winning a second term.

Since the start of his re-election campaign, Biden has constantly returned to this message. But it was not until Tuesday that he expressly stated that he may not have run for a second term if it were not for Trump. “We’re always going to defend, protect and fight for democracy,” he said on Tuesday. “That’s why I’m running.” Biden later clarified that he would not withdraw his candidacy even if his rival did.

“I don’t think anyone doubts democracy is more at risk in 2024 than it was in 2020. And I mean that. Because this time we’re running against an election denier-in-chief,” Biden told campaign donors on Tuesday. “Let’s be clear about the side — what’s at stake in 2024: Donald Trump and his MAGA Republicans are determined to destroy American democracy. And that, again, is not hyperbole. That’s a fact. The former president makes no bones about it. Don’t take my word for it. Just listen to what he has to say. To his supporters, he says, ‘2024 is the final battle.’ He goes on to say, ‘I am your retribution.’ And he talks about being part of ‘a failing nation.’ ‘Either they win or we win. If they win, we no longer have a country.’ When did you ever hear a president of the United States say any of those things — speak anything like that?”

“Trump’s not even hiding the ball anymore,” Biden told a separate campaign event in Boston. “He’s telling us exactly what he wants to do. He’s making no bones about it.”

Trump has openly vowed to go after his political rivals if he returns to the White House in retaliation for the indictments brought against him. “Yeah. If they do this and they’ve already done it, but if they want to follow through on this, yeah, it could certainly happen in reverse,” he said in an interview with Univision in November. “What they’ve done is they’ve released the genie out of the box,” he continued. “They have done something that allows the next party, I mean, if somebody — if I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say, ‘Go down and indict them.’”

Nazi rhetoric

Trump has embraced an increasingly violent and authoritarian rhetoric. He has referred to his political rivals as “vermin” that must be “eradicated” and also claimed that undocumented immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country” — expressions with overtones of Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy, as historians have made clear. Trump has also attacked judges and prosecutors, and suggested that his one-time chief of staff Mark Miley should be executed. He has also said that he supports shooting looters.

In Tuesday’s speech to campaign donors, Biden accused his predecessor of using the language of Nazis. “Now his supporters are saying he should invoke the Insurrection Act to use the military [...] domestically to political opponents and in American cities. If he’s returned to office, he said he was going to go after all those who oppose him, root out when he called the “vermin” in America — not a word often used except in Nazi Germany — a specific phrase with a specific meaning. And it echoes the language heard out of Germany in the 1930s,” he said.

Trump strikes back

Trump, aware that these attacks hurt his image, tried to turn the tables last weekend. “Joe Biden is not the defender of American democracy. Joe Biden is the destroyer of American democracy,” he said at an event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “He’s been weaponizing government against his political opponents like a Third World political tyrant.”

Biden, however, continues to insist that the real threat to American democracy is Trump. “He didn’t even show up at my inauguration. I can’t say it disappointed me, but he didn’t,” he joked at three different campaign events on Tuesday. “My guess is he won’t show up at my next inauguration either,” he added to the applause of the public.

Biden is not the only one warning about the risk posed by Trump. Former Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney has just published her book Oath and Honor, which puts forward the same message. “As a nation, we can endure damaging policies for a four-year term. But we cannot survive a president willing to terminate our Constitution,” the Wyoming Republican writes, warning that for the first time in history the United States is at risk of drifting towards a dictatorial regime.

On Friday, Biden will have another fundraising event at the home of former U.S. ambassador to Spain, James Costos, and his partner, Michael Smith, a famous interior designer who decorated the White House for president Barack Obama. Biden hopes to raise millions of dollars in his first campaign act with Hollywood personalities after the end of the screenwriters and actors strike. Musician Lenny Kravitz is scheduled to perform. Director Steven Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw, who starred in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, are among the hosts of the event, as are recording industry mogul David Geffen, Scandal showrunner Shonda Rhimes and This is Spinal Tap director Rob Reiner, according to an invitation obtained by The Associated Press. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, is also a co-host. Barbra Streisand is set to attend.

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