President Biden is flipping the script on Republicans by casting himself as the protector of “freedom,” going on offense by using a word and concept conservatives have frequently cited to push back on the president and his party.
Biden’s campaign launch video was titled “Freedom,” and he referenced “freedom” or “freedoms” six times over the course of the clip. The campaign’s first official ad used those words seven times.
The president’s team has used the term aggressively to tie Republicans, and in particular his political foe Donald Trump, to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol that some in the GOP have been reluctant to condemn and to highlight GOP efforts to curb abortion access and squash dissent in statehouses.
“It’s pretty clear the strategy here is going to be, ‘Republicans are coming after our freedoms and our ability to do X, Y and Z,” said one Democratic strategist. “Those are typically talking points Republicans use, so we are playing on their turf and winning.”
The effort puts Biden on a collision course with Trump, former Vice President Pence and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who all frequently talk about freedom even as their visions for the country diverge sharply with Biden’s.
Biden has been embracing the idea of freedom and pitching himself as the candidate most willing to defend basic freedoms in the early days of his 2024 campaign.
The president and his campaign have emphasized Republican attacks on reproductive rights through restrictive abortion bans at the state level after a conservative Supreme Court majority overturned Roe v. Wade.
And the campaign has spoken about Americans’ right to be free from gun violence and the fear of mass shootings — putting a spin on the notion by the GOP that Democrats want to impede on their gun rights.
To portray the president as a defender of the basic pillars of democracy, Biden’s launch video begins with and features violent images from Jan. 6 in which Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to stop Congress from completing the last step in certifying the 2020 election.
And Biden and the campaign have framed conservative culture war issues like book bans and laws targeting gender-affirming care as a matter of freedom, believing it will resonate with Americans who see GOP lawmakers as overstepping.
A Fox News poll published in early April found 77 percent of parents surveyed were extremely or very concerned about book banning by local school boards, an increase of 11 percentage points since May 2022.
“Fundamental freedoms are under attack in our country today,” Vice President Harris said at an event at Howard University the day Biden launched his reelection campaign, calling it “the tradition of our country to fight for freedom, to fight for rights, to fight for the ability of all people to be who they are and make decisions about their own lives and their bodies.”
For years, conservatives have tried to claim the freedom mantle, painting Democrats as a party of government overreach that would interfere in the day-to-day lives and decisions of Americans.
Republicans have frequently cited the idea of freedom to defend the Second Amendment after mass shootings, to oppose early Biden administration efforts to require COVID-19 vaccinations in certain situations, and to support arguments against gender-affirming policies at the state level.
“It’s about common sense, it’s about defending women’s sports, but make no mistake about it, the battle against radical gender ideology is a battle for religious freedom. And it’s a battle we must fight,” Pence, who is weighing a 2024 presidential run, said at a recent Faith and Freedom Coalition event in Iowa.
In addition to Pence, other Republicans expected to jump into the presidential race have repeatedly sought to use freedom as a messaging tool.
DeSantis, who is expected to announce his candidacy in the coming weeks, has tried to build up his political brand around the idea of freedom. He used the word “freedom” 12 times in his inaugural address in January after being reelected. He labeled his recent budget proposal the “framework for freedom.” And his new memoir is titled “The Courage to Be Free.”
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), another candidate who is expected to formally enter the 2024 race this month, has also used freedom as a line of attack against Biden as he sharpens his message for the presidential contest.
“Joe Biden says he wants to talk about freedom. Americans need more freedom,” Scott said in a video message posted last week. “Freedom from his bone-crushing inflation and even higher taxes. Freedom from showing up at school board meetings to talk about your kids and being considered a domestic terrorist. Freedom from a wide-open, insecure, unsafe border. Yes, we want to talk about freedom.”
But it’s a conversation Democrats are happy to have right now.
A Fox News poll released last week found 60 percent of voters view banning books as a “major” problem in schools.
The same poll found 57 percent of parents view attacks on transgender families as a major problem, compared to 49 percent who believe trans women competing in female sports is a major problem. The latter issue has emerged as a major talking point for conservatives.
“The [Biden] campaign doesn’t want to cede the rhetorical ground on the issue of freedom. Campaigns are very much competitions over framing,” said Danny Hayes, a political science professor at George Washington University.
“You have Biden saying, ‘I’m defending freedom, that’s a hallmark of democracy,’” Hayes added. “It’s a different way of talking about freedom than Republicans typically do.”
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