Trump Vs Biden – The Choice Is Clear

Heather Cox Richardson

After yesterday’s primary contests, we appear headed toward a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024. But this year’s election is an entirely different kettle of fish than that of 2020.

In 2020 there were plenty of red flags around Trump’s plans for a second term, but it was not until after it was clear he had lost the election that he gave up all pretense of normal presidential behavior. Beginning the night of the election, he tried to overturn that election and to install himself as president, ignoring the will of the voters, who had chosen Joe Biden. His attack on the fundamental principle of democracy ended the tradition of the peaceful transfer of power established in 1797 when our first president, George Washington, deliberately walked behind his successor, John Adams, after Adams was sworn into office.

Trump then refused to step aside for his successor as all of his predecessors had done, and has continued to push the Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. His loyalists in the states have embraced that lie, undermining faith in our electoral system, although they have never produced any evidence for their claims of voter fraud. (Remember the Cyber Ninjas who handled the election “audit” in Arizona? The company went out of business in 2022.)  

Then, a year after he left office, news broke that Trump had compromised the country’s national security by retaining highly classified documents and storing them in unsecured boxes at Mar-a-Lago. When the federal government tried to recover them, he hid them from officials. In June 2023 a grand jury in Miami indicted Trump on 37 felony counts related to that theft. 

Trump is not the same as he was in 2020, and in the past three years he has transformed the Republican Party into a vehicle for Christian nationalism. 

In 2016 the Republican Party was still dominated by leaders who promoted supply-side economics. They were determined to use the government to cut taxes and regulations to concentrate money and power among a few individuals, who would, theoretically, use that money and power to invest in the economy far more efficiently than they could if the government intervened. Before 2016 that Reaganesque party had stayed in office thanks to the votes of a base interested in advancing patriarchal, racist, and religious values. 

But Trump flipped the power structure in the party, giving control to the reactionary base. In the years since 2020, the Republican Party has become openly opposed to democracy, embracing the Christian nationalism of leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who maintains that the tenets of democracy weaken a nation by giving immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and women the same rights as heterosexual, native-born white men. 

Rather than calling for a small federal government that stays out of the way of market forces, as Republicans have advocated since 1980, the new Trump Party calls for a strong government that enforces religious rules and bans abortion; books; diversity, equity, and inclusion programs; and so on. In 2022, thanks to the three extremists Trump put on the Supreme Court, the government ceased to recognize a constitutional right that Americans had enjoyed since the 1973 Roe v. Wadedecision: the right to abortion.  

Last week, Trump formally took over the apparatus of the Republican Party, installing loyalists—including his daughter-in-law—at the head of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and purging the organization of all but his own people. Indicating its priorities, the RNC has hired Trump lawyer Christina Bobb, former correspondent at the right-wing media outlet One American News Network and promoter of the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, as senior counsel for election integrity. 

In Congress, far-right Trump supporters are paralyzing the House of Representatives. The Republicans took power after the midterm elections of 2022 and have run one of the least effective congresses in history. Far-right members have refused to agree to anything that didn’t meet their extremist positions, while first Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and then Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) refused to reach out to Democrats to pass legislation except for must-pass laws like appropriations, when Democrats provide the majority of the votes that keep the government functioning. 

The result has been a Congress that can get virtually nothing done and instead has focused on investigations of administration officials—including the president—which have failed spectacularly. Republican members who actually want to pass laws are either leaving or declining to run for reelection. The conference has become so toxic that fewer than 100 members agreed to attend their annual retreat that began today. “I’d rather sit down with Hannibal Lecter and eat my own liver,” a Republican member of Congress told Juliegrace Brufke of Axios.

Meanwhile, Trump has promised that if he returns to office, he will purge the nonpartisan civil service we have had since 1883, replacing career employees with his own loyalists. He has called for weaponizing the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense, and his advisors say he will round up and put into camps 10 million people currently living in the U.S., not just undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers but also those with birthright citizenship, tossing away a right that has been enshrined in the Constitution since 1868.

Internationally, he has aligned with dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and has threatened to abandon the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a security pact that has protected the U.S. and like-minded nations since 1949. 

If Trump has descended into authoritarianism since 2020, Biden has also changed. For all his many decades of public service, it was unclear in 2020 what he could actually accomplish as president, especially since Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had weaponized the filibuster to stop Congress from passing anything on the Democrats’ wish list. But on January 5, 2021, in a special election, Georgia voters elected Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, and the Democrats took control of the Senate as well as of the House. 

In Biden’s first two years—with the help of then–House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who managed a squeaky-small House majority—Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the Democratic majority, and on occasion, a few Republicans set out to demonstrate that the government could work for ordinary Americans. They passed a series of laws that rivaled President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s. 

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan rebuilt the economy after the worst of the coronavirus pandemic; the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act) is rebuilding the nation’s roads and bridges; the $280 billion Chips and Science Act invests in semiconductor manufacture and scientific research; the $739 billion Inflation Reduction Act enables the government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and invests in programs to combat climate change. Projects funded by these measures are so popular that Republicans who voted against them are trying to claim credit. 

Biden, Harris, and the Democrats have diversified the government service, defended abortion rights, reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, relieved debt by enforcing the terms of student loans, passed a gun safety law, and reinforced NATO.

They set out to overturn supply-side economics, restoring the system on which the nation had been based between 1933 and 1981, in which the government regulated business, maintained a basic social safety net, promoted infrastructure, and protected civil rights. The result was the strongest economic recovery from the pandemic of any country in the world.  

“Now, the general election truly begins, and the contrast could not be clearer,” Harris wrote after Biden secured the nomination. “Donald Trump is a threat to our democracy and our fundamental freedoms. He is proud of his role in overturning Roe, and has talked openly about plans for a nationwide abortion ban. He routinely praises authoritarian leaders and has himself vowed to be a dictator on Day One. Just this week, he said that cuts to Social Security and Medicare would be on the table if he receives a second term. Each of these stances ought to be considered disqualifying by itself; taken together, they reveal the former President to be an existential danger to our country.

“With his State of the Union speech last week, President Biden passionately presented our alternative vision. We will reduce costs for families, make housing more affordable, and raise the minimum wage. We will restore Roe, protect voting rights, and finally address our gun violence epidemic. The American people overwhelmingly support this agenda over Donald Trump’s extreme ideas, and that will propel our campaign in the months ahead.”

It appears that Biden and Trump will square off again in 2024 as they did in 2020, but the election is not a replay of four years ago. Both candidates are now known quantities, and they have clearly laid out very different plans for America’s future. 

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