Six takeaways from Biden's recent campaign speeches
Updated February 3, 2024 at 11:26 AM ET
President Biden recently intensified his bid for re-election, and an analysis of his speeches gives a picture of his emerging campaign.
As with his 2024 rival, former President Donald Trump – whose campaign speeches NPR analyzed last week – Biden mainly reaches the public through short soundbites and video clips in news stories or on social media. A more complete picture emerges when you hear him at length. What follows are a few themes of Biden's four talks, across five days in Virginia, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Washington, D.C.
The president is taking on Donald Trump by name
For years Biden talked about Trump while avoiding saying his name. It's that political tradition where candidates avoid elevating a rival, referring to them simply as "my opponent."
While there was always some complexity to this tradition – a candidate might stay above the fray while surrogates did the dirty work – it permitted Biden to contrast his campaign style with Trump's frequent and overtly personal attacks.
But Biden's camp intends to make this election about Trump, and in the four speeches we analyzed he spoke Trump's name more than 40 times, attacking Trump's policies while president. He branded Trump a "loser," and said Trump's attitude toward veterans "makes me angry."
And if Trump questions Biden's mental state, Biden now questions Trump's, noting in one speech that Trump seemed "confused" when he recently referred to Nancy Pelosi as Nikki Haley.
He pushes abortion rights
Biden repeatedly named Trump as the individual most responsible for ending the right to abortion. Campaigning in 2016, Trump explicitly promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, and they did so in 2022.
"The reason women are being forced to travel across state lines for healthcare is Donald Trump," Biden said, adding that some Republicans talk of a "national ban."
It's not surprising that Biden would play up this theme. As the battle over abortion shifted to the states, majorities of voters even in some red states have supported abortion rights and rejected bids to eliminate them.
Trump himself has warned that abortion is now a political vulnerability. In the four Trump speeches we analyzed, the Republican never used the word "abortion", alluding to the issue only once in a brief phrase.
Biden says much less about immigration
Immigration was the opposite of abortion: Trump brings it up constantly and Biden very little in his campaign speeches. The busing of migrants from the southern border to northern cities has triggered widespread concern among voters of both parties.
In one speech, Biden did highlight bi-partisan legislation that, he said, would allow him to "shut down" the border and "fix it." Actually, the Senate legislation would not actually allow him to close the border but would authorize him to restrict the number of asylum seekers.
While Biden was promoting that bill, Trump was working to torpedo it, publicly instructing his allies in Congress to block it.
His critics push the war in Gaza
In the four speeches we analyzed, Biden never mentioned his support for Israel in its war against Hamas, though protesters did. They repeatedly interrupted his speeches, shouting "Genocide Joe."
The conflict has fractured his Democratic coalition. Many Arab-Americans in the swing state of Michigan, for example, say they're dismayed that the Biden Administration has not applied more pressure on the Israeli government. Israeli forces – responding to the October 7th massacre of Israeli civilians – have slain thousands of Palestinians,, including women and children.
He promotes his economic policies
Polling shows that voters have allowed Biden little credit for the current economic recovery.. Biden, in his speeches, is aiming to change their perception. He visited the site of a Superior, Wisconsin, bridge, a funding beneficiary of the bipartisan infrastructure law. Biden often reminds his audience that economists' predictions of a recession in 2023 proved to be untrue, blaming corporations, not White House policies, for high prices.
He summed up his campaign in a word
Biden's broadest overall theme was one of "freedom," a word he used fifteen times across the four speeches.
Among those freedoms, he mentioned the freedom to vote, reproductive freedom, and the freedom to attend school or to worship without fear of a mass shooting.
Both parties use this word, once the central pitch of traditional, small-government Republicans. It's the context that differentiates them.
In the speeches we analyzed, Biden used the word freedom more often than Trump. Though Trump used the word too, often referring to his own legal troubles and accusing prosecutors of trying to take away his freedom
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