Biden to defend democracy in speech in France, drawing contrast with Trump

PARIS — President Biden will return to Normandy on Friday to hail the U.S. Army Rangers who scaled the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc eight decades ago in defense of freedom and democracy, part of a speech for the American people that will echo the central themes of his reelection bid.

One day after meeting with World War II veterans and declaring during a D-Day commemoration that “democracy is never guaranteed,” Biden is expected to lean more heavily into one of the domestic aims of his visit to France: to draw a sharp contrast with his predecessor and chief political rival, Donald Trump.

While Biden has so far avoided naming Trump during his time abroad, he has increasingly warned of the dangers posed by the kind of authoritarian and isolationist impulses the former president has embraced in his push to return to the White House. Biden, who has said in the past that America’s very democracy is at stake in the coming election, sought to use the setting of D-Day’s 80th anniversary to sound the alarm about the advance of anti-democratic forces across the globe.

“We’re living in a time when democracy is more at risk across the world than at any point since the end of the World War II — since these beaches were stormed in 1944,” Biden said Thursday at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. “Now, we have to ask ourselves: Will we stand against tyranny, against evil, against crushing brutality of the iron fist? Will we stand for freedom? Will we defend democracy?”

Biden’s speech Friday at Pointe du Hoc, expected to be his most significant public engagement during his five-day trip to France, will be an implicit appeal for voters to block Trump from surging back into power at a time when public polling suggests the president has work to do to convince Americans of his case.

And the president’s message about defending human rights and freedom in Europe has been complicated by his staunch support for Israel amid a growing humanitarian catastrophe resulting from relentless Israeli onslaught in Gaza.

Biden, who has focused on the war in Ukraine rather than the Middle East during his trip to France, planned to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Friday in Paris before traveling to Normandy.

In directly critiquing Russian President Vladimir Putin as a tyrant and suggesting Trump has a similar worldview, Biden seeks to frame the political landscape in 2024 as a stark yet simple choice between democracy and dictatorship.

Trump has provided the president substantial material to work with. In the wake of his felony conviction in New York last week, the former president has intensified his campaign’s emphasis on revenge and retribution, publicly vowing to prosecute Biden and his family members over unsubstantiated corruption allegations. In private, he has specified one-time aides such as former military chief Gen. Mark A. Milley and former attorney general William P. Barr as potential targets of investigation, people familiar with the conversations told The Washington Post.

In a televised interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday, Trump was given several opportunities to reassure people that he would not abuse federal power to take revenge on his political enemies. He consistently demurred.

“I would have every right to go after them,” Trump said.

Hannity tried to get Trump to condemn the “weaponization” of justice, asking him to “pledge to restore equal justice, equal application of our laws.”

“Is that a promise you’re going to make?” Hannity said.

“Look, I know you want me to say something so nice,” Trump responded. “But I don’t want to look naive.”

The exchange recalled a previous interview when Hannity asked Trump to dispel concerns that he would govern as a dictator, and Trump responded, “except for day one.” Trump has often repeated that line, sometimes suggesting he was joking, a tactic that experts in authoritarianism and political rhetoric say can be used to confuse or numb voters.

In a similar tactic, Trump has sought to spin around concerns about his authoritarian instincts by accusing Biden of acting like a dictator or undermining democracy. He has repeatedly accused Biden of spearheading political prosecutions, though there is no evidence of White House involvement in the four separate criminal cases against Trump.

Trump has repeatedly refused to commit to accepting the outcome of the election and to disavow political violence. Instead, he has floated violence as a possible response to a defeat, with words such as “bedlam” and “bloodbath.”

Trump and his advisers have also indicated that he plans to staff his administration with loyalists dedicated to carry out his orders and to show less restraint toward legal and customary checks on presidential authority, such as by deploying the military against migrants or civil demonstrations, intervening directly in law enforcement, and defying congressional spending mandates.

Biden will not need to specifically mention those examples to make his case against Trump while in France, and instead can rely on the historic setting to drive home the point about defending democracy, said Doug Brinkley, a presidential historian.

Biden also leaned into contrasts with Trump in subtle and stylistic ways. He spoke at Thursday’s commemoration, but spent much of the day as a spectator, meeting privately and individually with veterans, and whispering into the ears of those who received France’s highest honor. In his remarks he spoke of universal themes and global struggles, but kept his distance from specific political fissures.

The decision to give a speech at Pointe du Hoc suggests that Biden is trying to replicate the successful visit of another Republican president — Ronald Reagan.

In 1984, as he was facing reelection, Reagan delivered a moving speech at Pointe du Hoc that helped lift his sagging poll numbers on foreign policy. In his remarks from the northern shore of France, Reagan hailed the 225 Rangers who jumped from British landing craft and began scaling the cliffs with ropes and grappling hooks, braving heavy fire to reach a suspected German gun emplacement 100 feet up.

“You all knew that some things are worth dying for,” Reagan told some of the surviving Rangers on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. “One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.

Biden echoed those remarks during his speech Thursday, 40 years later, hailing the veterans who “knew, beyond any doubt, there are things that are worth fighting and dying for,” including freedom and democracy.

“Biden has a chance to be like Reagan,” said Brinkley, whose book “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc” examined Reagan’s speech and the U.S. troops who fought there. “The standard is to be Reagan-esque and do everything you can to not replicate Trump’s disastrous visit.”

During a 2018 visit to France, Trump skipped a planned stop at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris, and reportedly described fallen servicemembers as “losers” and “suckers,” remarks that were later confirmed by his chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly. The Trump campaign has denied those comments, and others on the trip said bad weather was responsible for Trump’s decision not to visit the cemetery.

The Trump campaign, which shared selectively edited video clips of Biden’s Normandy visit aimed at making him look infirm and addled, welcomed the opportunity to contrast the two candidates on the world stage.

“President Trump secured historic peace around the world and deterred our enemies through strong leadership; and Joe Biden’s weakness and failure has invited aggression and war in both Ukraine and the Middle East,” Karoline Leavitt, a spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign, said in a statement.

The Biden campaign released a new ad Thursday featuring veterans who slammed Trump as unserious and unfit for the role of commander in chief.

For his part, Trump acknowledged the D-Day anniversary by sharing a 45-second recording of himself video-calling four veterans from his plane flying to a campaign stop in Arizona. In the clip, Trump promised to make them his first guests at the White House in January.

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