With President Joe Biden's speech today at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina, coming after his speech in Pennsylvania on January 5, the election year of 2024 is in full swing. The first Republican caucus will be held on January 15 in Iowa; the first Democratic primary will be held on February 3. (A caucus is held by a political party and can have public voting, by a show of hands or gathering behind a candidate's team; a primary election is run by the government and uses secret ballots.)
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are laying out the difference between their vision for America and that of the current Republican frontrunner, former president Trump. In Pennsylvania, after a visit to Valley Forge, where General George Washington's troops camped during the hard winter of 1777–1778, Biden laid out Trump's assault on American democracy by trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election, normalizing violence, and threatening to become a dictator.
On January 6, the day after Biden's speech, Harris spoke at the annual retreat of the Women's Missionary Society of the 7th Episcopal District of the AME Church at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where she emphasized the relationship between voting and governance. "In 2020, at the height of an historic pandemic, in the midst of so much loss and uncertainty, you showed up to vote," Harris told the audience. "And you organized your friends and family members and neighbors to do the same. And it is because of you that Joe Biden is President of the United States and I am the first Black woman to be Vice President of the United States."
That administration, she said, has meant access to high-speed internet for rural communities, lead-free water, investments in historically Black colleges and universities, the expansion of Medicaid coverage for postpartum care, and more Black women judges appointed than under any other administration in history, "including the first Black woman to ever sit on the highest court in…our land." "Elections matter; leadership matters; and it makes a difference in the lives of people who, for the most part, many of us may never meet, who, for the most part, may never know our names."
Democracy, Harris said, "is extremely strong in terms of what it does and the strength that it gives its people in the protection and preservation of individual rights, freedoms, and liberty. Incredibly strong…. And it is, on the other hand, extremely fragile. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it."
In South Carolina today, in a historic Black church, Biden visited the site of the 2015 murders of nine church members at Bible study by a white supremacist. Biden condemned white supremacy and warned that some Americans are trying to "steal history" by rewriting it to claim the insurrectionists of January 6, 2021, were "a peaceful protest." That lie is part of a broader attack on the truth, Biden said, in which Trump loyalists try "to erase history and your future: banning books; denying your right to vote and have it counted; destroying diversity, equality, inclusion all across America; harboring hate and replacing hope with anger and resentment and a dangerous view of America."
"That narrow view of America," he said, is "a zero-sum view…that says, 'If you win, I lose. If you succeed, it must be I failed. If you get ahead, I fall behind.' And maybe worst of all, 'If I hold you down, I lift myself up.' But democracy is not a zero-sum game, he said. He called for "lifting up a bigger and broader view of America that holds that 'If you do well, I do well. We all do well.'"
This year, for the first time, South Carolina will host the Democrats' first presidential primary, in recognition that Iowa and New Hampshire, the states that previously were first, do not represent either the Democrats' voter base or the country. South Carolina's 2020 primary was a major boost for Biden's candidacy that year, as Representative Jim Clyburn and Black voters got behind him rather than candidates perceived to be less centrist. Biden is expected to win the South Carolina primary this year but would like a strong showing in the Black community that makes up a strong share of the party's base.
Trump is also gearing up for the Iowa caucus, the first Republican nomination event of the season, on January 15. In Talking Points Memo today, Barbara A. Trish noted that his campaign is far more organized than it was in 2016 (he did not need to fight for the nomination in 2020), looking much more like a traditional political organization.
But Trump is in deep trouble. He is embroiled in many legal cases, his loyalists have run state Republican parties into the ground, and his opponent Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, is building steam in her quest for the nomination.
In the face of such headwinds, Trump is working to cement his evangelical base. Over the weekend, he shared a video titled "God Made Trump" that utterly misrepresented his behavior and portrayed him as a divinely inspired leader.
In the New York Times today, Ruth Graham and Charles Homans explored the self-declared evangelical voters for Trump and reported that their support for Trump is less about religion than it is about "a cultural and political identity: one in which Christians are considered a persecuted minority, traditional institutions are viewed skeptically and Mr. Trump looms large." They are not churchgoers and are looking for what they see as retribution against those they believe are destroying traditional values, those who defend a secular society in which everyone is treated equally before the law.
Trump and his people appear to be trying to intimidate opponents into either support or silence. After losing two pretrial motions in the upcoming January 16 trial for damages associated with his defamation of E. Jean Carroll, the writer who said Trump raped her in the 1990s, Trump flooded social media with attacks on Carroll.
Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is investigating Trump's mishandling of classified documents and his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, and Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the election interference case, have been harassed with swatting attempts, a dangerous hoax in which someone gets law enforcement officers to rush to a home with claims that a violent crime is underway there.
Trump suggested today that unless he is guaranteed immunity for his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, if he is reelected he will use the Department of Justice to make sure Biden is also indicted for his own actions as president. "If I don't get Immunity, then Crooked Joe Biden doesn't get Immunity," he wrote on social media.
Behind Trump's behavior is a willingness to destroy democracy, as the New York Times editorial board noted on January 6, 2024, when it wrote that Trump "confronts America with a…choice: between the continuance of the United States as a nation dedicated to 'the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity' and a man who has proudly shown open disdain for the law and the protections and ideals of the Constitution."
Trump has made it clear that he does not consider himself bound by the country's electoral system. On Saturday, Dave McKinney of WBEZ Chicago noted that Trump refused to sign an Illinois pledge, traditionally signed by all candidates, that he would not "advocate the overthrow of the government." In 2016 and 2020, like other candidates, Trump signed it.
On Sunday, Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House, told Kristen Welker of NBC's Meet the Press that she would not commit to respecting the results of the 2024 election. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) called out the comment, saying: "They are promising to steal the election…. Everyone knows they mean it. Be freaked out."
Indeed, part of lawyer John Eastman's plan for overturning the 2020 election was to challenge the electoral votes of enough states to deny Biden a majority in the electoral college, thus throwing the election into the House of Representatives as outlined by the Twelfth Amendment. There, each state would have a single vote, and since there were more Republican-dominated states than Democratic ones, Trump would become president.
In Myrtle Beach on Sunday, Vice President Harris told the audience, "[A]t this moment in history, I say: Let us not throw up our hands when it's time to roll up our sleeves. Because we were born for a time such as this." Today, in Charleston, President Biden made the stakes clear: "[T]his is a time of choosing," he said, "so let us choose the truth. Let us choose America."
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