Biden to argue Trump remains a threat to democracy — a case his campaign thinks resonates with voters

“When there are major events that happen in this country’s history, the next national election becomes a moment when the people of that country render a judgment about it. We believe that in 2024, [Jan. 6] will be that moment,” said the adviser, who was granted anonymity to preview Biden’s remarks. “Trump had tried to exploit the weakness of American democracy on Jan. 6. Biden saw real strength — he saw a democracy that held.”

Biden launched his 2020 campaign focused on Trump, casting the race as a battle for the “soul of the nation.” But as he has lagged Trump in polls in the run-up to 2024, Democrats have increasingly fretted that he is spending too much time trying to make a failed economic pitch instead of focusing on Trump and his attempt to overturn the 2020 election. 

Biden will invoke Washington not just for his leadership at Valley Forge, but also for the example he set. The adviser noted that Washington voluntarily surrendered his military commission before he became president and chose not to seek a third term to ensure America’s fledgling democracy continued.

“You don’t use any means possible to hold on to power. And in America, power resides with the people,” the adviser said.

Biden’s advisers say that the speech is an “opening salvo” for 2024 and that his focus on Trump is “a sharpening, not a shift,” in strategy after months in which paid advertising and public events have otherwise been focused on economic messaging.

Even as close Biden allies have suggested that a stronger approach to Trump should be a more regular part of his public messaging, the campaign believes swing voters are likely to be turned off by aggressive anti-Trump messaging this early in the race. 

But Friday’s speech is the kind of moment the campaign appears to be saving its fire for — marking the anniversary of the day a mob of Trump supporters overwhelmed the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers were engaged in the final procedural step to formalize Biden’s victory.

“Our campaign believes that it is a moral obligation that we paint the picture of the threat that Donald Trump and the Republican Party pose to America,” deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Wednesday on MSNBC.

Trump’s overwhelming lead in the Republican primary campaign is another factor driving the timing of Biden’s speech, according to Biden campaign officials, with the first nominating contest just days away. More voters are now tuning in to the race, another Biden adviser said, making it the right time for the president to return to a message that was part of his kickoff video in April, which included images of the Jan. 6 attack.

The senior adviser noted that Biden faced criticism for a pair of major speeches about democracy and political violence he delivered before the 2022 midterms but said the results showed that it can be a motivating issue. And other campaign officials have said Republican-leaning voters — even some who backed Trump four years ago — are open to voting for Biden this year if and when Trump becomes the nominee. 

The second Biden adviser said, “The president fundamentally believes that the vast majority of Americans do still believe that the sacred cause of this country is democracy, and that is true without respect to party affiliation overall.”

The speech has been under consideration for months, with Mike Donilon, Biden’s chief strategist, taking the lead in crafting it. Biden has had no public events since he returned from a holiday vacation in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to fine-tune and rehearse the speech, underscoring its importance in setting the tone for the year ahead, according to an official familiar with the planning.