WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has opened many of his recent speeches with a caveat.

Even as he attacks Republicans with gusto — including former President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress — Biden takes pains to point out that not all Republicans are plotting to destroy Social Security, oppose abortion rights and embrace political violence.

Just some of them, he said.

The president’s goal is to show that he understands there is a difference between what he calls extremist “MAGA Republicans,” a reference to Trump’s “Make American Great Again” campaign slogan, and other members of the Republican Party.

It is a tricky message to deliver, especially for a president who vowed in his inaugural address to “end this uncivil war that pits red against blue.”

But the president’s full-throated warnings about the threats to democratic institutions come just two months before the midterms elections, at a time when political violence and election denial remain rampant. Trump and many of his supporters continue to defend their lies about the 2020 election and the attacks on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. And there have been new threats of violence against federal agents investigating Trump’s handling of government documents.

Despite Biden’s caveats, Republicans have seized on the president’s message to claim that he is condemning the 74 million people who voted for Trump in 2020. That has left some Democrats worried that Biden’s message could end up alienating swing voters or potential supporters in the Republican Party, even those who reject Trump’s lies.


“My advice would be: Navigate with care,” said former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who served as the top Democrat in the Senate and the majority leader. Daschle applauded the president for calling out election lies and violence, but he cautioned that Biden’s fiery message could easily go awry.

“It is critical that as Democrats, we try to draw that distinction between legitimate policy debate and what I would consider illegitimate assertions on truth involving elections and facts around elections,” Daschle said.

But when it comes to policy, it is not always easy to draw such a bright line between MAGA Republicans and those Biden calls the “mainstream” Republicans he has worked with for decades. Trump’s grip on the party is strong, and his influence is evident in a range of issues, including abortion and climate change, that have lurched the party to the right.

At times, Biden has conflated the two groups, saying it is MAGA Republicans who are putting forward conservative policies he opposes.

During Labor Day remarks in Milwaukee, Biden used the word “Republican” 28 times, lashing out at what he calls an extreme ideology that should be rejected when voters go to the polls in congressional elections this fall.

“Every single Republican voted against lowering prescription drug prices, against lowering health care costs, against protecting your pensions, against lower energy costs, against creating good-paying jobs, against a fairer tax system,” Biden told an audience filled with labor union supporters. “Every single one in the House and Senate. Every one.”


Moments later, he added, “The extreme right, the ‘Trumpies’ — they want to go to — these MAGA Republicans in Congress are coming for your Social Security as well.”

Politicians have gotten in trouble for using overly broad language to attack political opponents at the height of the campaign season.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state, was caught generalizing about Trump’s supporters during the 2016 presidential campaign, telling her donors, “You could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.”

During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama described rural Americans as people who “get bitter; they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” In 2012, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, wrote off nearly half of the country’s voters, calling 47% of them “entitled” and victims who would always vote for Obama.

And just like those previous comments did, Biden’s speeches have generated a torrent of criticism. Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, said that “Biden is the most condescending president of my lifetime.” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted a picture of the president clenching his fists during a speech last week, adding the caption: “Angry man smears half of the people of the country he is supposed to lead & promised to unite.”

Biden insists he is doing no such thing. At the beginning of Monday’s speech in Milwaukee, he noted that “I want to be very clear up front: Not every Republican is a MAGA Republican. Not every Republican embraces that extreme ideology.” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday that the president “has been very clear that he’s talking about officeholders.”


“He’s talking about elected officials who have these MAGA, ultra-MAGA Republican agendas,” she said.

Jason Grumet, the president of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, said the brief caveats at the beginning of Biden’s speeches were not very effective alongside the larger broadsides that the president was delivering against Republicans, mixing criticism about anti-democratic behavior with more familiar disagreements about policy positions.

“The lumping of that much more diverse group of people into this one kind of MAGA frame certainly caused a lot of people to feel like it was an undue castigation of millions of Americans,” he said. “You can have a principled, progressive debate about student debt and abortion and do that entirely within the confines of respecting core democratic principles.”

Biden’s use of aggressive language during an election season is hardly new. For decades, presidents have ratcheted up attacks on their rivals in an effort to clarify the choice for voters when they go to the polls.

But the president’s brand is built on a promise that he can unite America’s warring factions, drawing on a career in which he often was able to bridge political divides during a decadeslong career in the Senate. He ends almost all of his speeches by saying, “We’re the United States of America. There is nothing — nothing we can’t do if we do it together.”

Grumet said that Biden’s history of embracing bipartisanship raises the expectations among voters that he will seek to work with Republicans, even when they disagree strongly on many issues.

“He desperately wants to be a president who can represent the entire country, and he really wants that to be true,” Grumet said. “And he is stymied by having to engage with a large group of people who argue he’s an illegitimate president. I think that fundamental struggle is playing out in real time.”