President Joe Biden will seek to fire up his 2024 campaign Friday with a major speech warning that democracy is at risk from Donald Trump, three years after the deadly January 6 US Capitol attack.
Either trailing or neck and neck with Trump in recent polls, the 81-year-old Democrat will frame his likely Republican rival as a threat to the nation in an address near the historic US independence war site of Valley Forge in Pennsylvania.
A looming winter storm forced the speech to be brought forward a day from Saturday, the third anniversary of the Capitol assault by a pro-Trump mob trying to overturn Biden’s 2020 election win.
The effort to boost Biden’s campaign by painting him as a defender of democracy will continue Monday when the president visits a South Carolina church where a white supremacist shot dead nine Black parishioners in 2015.
Campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said Biden’s election pitch four years ago that he was leading a “battle for the soul of America” was more relevant than ever.
“The threat Donald Trump posed in 2020 to American democracy has only grown more dire in the years since,” she said in a statement.
Trump was impeached but acquitted over the January 6 riots, while the 77-year-old now faces a criminal trial on charges of trying to subvert the 2020 election.
The US states of Colorado and Maine have barred him from standing in presidential primaries on the grounds that he had engaged in “insurrection” over the Capitol events. Trump has challenged both rulings.
But January 6 has become increasingly polarized in US politics — a quarter of Americans believe that the FBI instigated the attack, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll showed this week.
The venues for Biden’s first speeches of 2024 are deliberately symbolic — the first, at a school near Valley Forge, where George Washington, the first US president, regrouped American forces fighting their British colonial rulers during the bitter winter of 1777-8.
“We chose Valley Forge as George Washington united the colonies there,” said principal deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks.
“Then he became president and set the precedent for the peaceful transition of power — something that Donald Trump and Republicans refused to do.”
The push at the start of 2024 comes after criticism from some Democrats that the Biden campaign has got off to a slow start.
Biden has failed to convince voters that the economy is improving despite favorable numbers, with Americans saying they are still suffering from high food and housing costs.
Migration across the Mexican border remains a major headache, while there is division in his party over his support for Israel’s war on Hamas, and Congress is blocking his bid for more funds for Ukraine.
Biden’s refusal to mention Trump’s multiple criminal cases, to avoid the appearance of influencing the judiciary, has also deprived him of one of his most potent weapons.
But perhaps Biden’s biggest vulnerability is his age: as America’s oldest-ever president, he has suffered a series of trips and verbal slips.
Biden lags behind Trump in some polls, and also has the worst approval rating of any modern president at this stage in his term of office.
“If the election were held tomorrow, President Biden would lose,” William Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told AFP.
Yet the Pennsylvania and South Carolina speeches show the Biden campaign will now portray the race as a straight choice between him and the twice-impeached former president.
The campaign is already treating Trump as the presumptive challenger despite the fact that the battle for the Republican nomination doesn’t even get underway until the Iowa caucuses on January 15.
Democrats are also targeting Trump on issues such as abortion access and health care.
Biden’s first TV ad of the year warns of an “extremist” threat to democracy, featuring images of the Capitol attack set to dramatic music.
“It was a sight that was horrific,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Thursday.
“The president is going to continue to speak about this and continue to be very vocal about this.”