The crowd hung on his every word, cheering him on and chasing his adversaries. At one point, emotions ran high enough that someone in the crowd shouted “Lock him up!” roared.
This was not a meeting of Donald Trump in which the former president vowed to use the prison to settle political scores. This cry came as President Joe Biden addressed top Democratic leaders at a riverside resort outside Washington, where he warned of “Trumpers” trying to destroy American democracy.
And instead of insisting on bipartisan politeness, Biden didn’t miss a beat.
“We need to win these out-of-year elections,” the president said, “for more reasons than just advancing our agenda.”
The boisterous mood of the recent summer Democratic National Committee meeting in National Harbor, just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, follows a new, sharper tone from Biden as he warns that Trump’s wing of the GOP poses a threat to core American values. Less than two months after Election Day, the atmosphere ushered in an emboldened party that felt that a year of political commitments ranging from the failed withdrawal from Afghanistan to soaring inflation is finally waning.
The Supreme Court decision invalidating a woman’s constitutional right to abortion by overthrowing Roe v. Wade in November may prove a turning point that energizes Democratic voters, the party says. Since then, Kansas Republican has rejected a statewide abortion ban, and Democrats have won notable House victories in New York and Alaska.
“There’s a real sense that Republicans have kicked the hive,” said Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, who wants to flip a Senate seat from Republican Ron Johnson while retaining the governorship.
But as the party navigates an unexpected sense of momentum, it risks tapping into the same divisions that Trump and his supporters enjoy — and which Democrats have said undermines Democratic norms. Democrats, however, insist that they need to be clear about the campaign’s stakes.
“Republicans are using fear as a tactic,” Illinois Democratic Representative Robin Kelly said. “It often seems that we have to do that a little bit as well.”
Biden, who rarely referred to his predecessor during the opening stages of his presidency, is increasingly speaking about the need to confront Trump. “This man never stops and we never will,” he told the DNC.
Vice President Kamala Harris said at the conference, “We refuse to allow extremist so-called leaders to dismantle our democracy.”
“Democrats, we, here, rise to meet this moment,” Harris said.
Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, made his own rounds at the DNC, using sarcasm to fuel even more moderate Republicans who dared break with Trump on key issues, such as denouncing the year’s deadly attack on the US Capitol. .
“We’ve got some Republicans saying the right things when they say, I don’t know, betrayal? As if pushing back treason somehow, you should be honored,” Emhoff told the Midwestern DNC conference to loud laughter and cheers. ‘That was in the oath of office we all took. That’s the job.’
Trump came to power with a divisive approach to politics. He encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies during the 2016 campaign, calling the media the “enemy of the people.” As president, he said several liberal congresswomen of color should go back to the “broken and crime-ridden” countries they came from, ignoring the fact that they are all US citizens and three were born in the US. The last days of his administration were consumed with efforts to stay in office, including Trump’s personal role in fueling the January 6 insurgency.
Republicans who were largely silent then are now criticizing Biden and Democrats for choosing political battles.
Republican National Committee chairman Ronna McDaniel has called the president “the chief” and denounced “the current state of the Democratic Party”: one of division, disgust and hostility towards half the country.
While Democrats are becoming increasingly optimistic about their outlook, there is still plenty of reason to be cautious. The party’s hold on Congress is already tenuous, and many of the races that could determine control of Capitol Hill can be decided by narrow margins. Democrats have also missed signs of strong GOP turnout in the past several elections — leading to surprising setbacks in places like South Florida.
More fundamentally, the party that wins the presidency almost always loses congressional seats the next cycle, and inflation remains near record highs despite some recent indications that it may be cooling. Biden’s approval ratings are improving but remain low.
Ken Martin, president of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and DNC vice chairman, suggested that the key to medium-term gains doesn’t have to be confrontational and could simply mean scolding Washington’s performance under Democratic control.
“Everywhere I go, I see Democrats hanging their heads, wringing their hands, wondering, ‘Well, what are we going to do to win?’ “Do you know what you need to do to make sure we win? Tell the story,” Martin said of promoting the party’s achievements. “President Joe Biden has led the way and delivered on almost every promise.”
But Martin also suggested that simply staying positive may not be enough, adding that Democrats should “be prepared to fight for our president” and “fight for our party.”
Wikler, the Democratic chairman of the state of Wisconsin, said his party was turning the GOP playbook back to Republicans to boost voter turnout in statewide local elections.
Glenn Youngkin, the Virginia Republican who has been coping with parents’ frustration at schools closed during the pandemic, helped him win the state governorship last year. Wikler said Democrats have successfully argued in the latest round of local elections that so-called parental activism was actually based on conservative attacks on the authority of teachers, transgender students, and how history is taught — with the ultimate goal of eliminating taxpayer funding. getting out of public schools.
“Explaining why the other party is doing what they are doing can take the sting out,” Wikler said.
DNC chairman Jamie Harrison suggested that his party has regained some of its political boasting at the national level, calling the upcoming election “Roe-vember” as a way of predicting that support for abortion rights will lift Democrats.
But as he toured the conference with smaller caucus groups, Harrison also reminded them that Democratic leaders in critical swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan helped protect the electoral system from Trump’s lies about widespread fraud that didn’t happen in 2020. major races in such states this year is the best way to ensure the system holds up after the 2024 presidential race results are in.
“If we don’t succeed in that election,” Harrison said, “God help us all.”