Last week, President Biden gave a wide-ranging interview to John Harwood of ProPublica that touched on his presidency, the Republican Party and the present state and future status of American democracy.
Early in the interview, Harwood asks Biden whether he thinks the threat to democracy is broader than the refusal of Donald Trump and his allies to accept election defeats:
As you think about the threat to democracy, do you think about it specifically as the refusal to accept election defeats and peaceful transfer of power? Or does it more broadly encompass some of the longstanding features of democracy, like the Electoral College, the nature of the Senate, the gerrymandering process, that sometimes thwarts the will of the majority?
In his answer, Biden more or less confirms that yes, when he speaks of the threat to democracy, he specifically means the threat coming from the MAGA wing of the Republican Party. For Biden, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are the “underpinnings of democracy.” The issue, for him, is that MAGA Republicans would try to overturn elections and “prevent the people’s voice” from being expressed, not to mention heard.
Later, toward the end of the interview, Biden takes care to emphasize the extent to which he separates MAGA Republicans from the rest of the public. “I really do believe the vast majority of the American people are decent, honorable, straightforward,” the president says. The MAGA radicals, he adds, are “a minority of the minority.” Biden goes on to argue that this majority of decent Americans “needs to understand what the danger is if they don’t participate.”
This last point is interesting. If the most radicalized and anti-democratic segment of the public is also a small and unrepresentative minority, then there’s no real reason to worry about their influence on electoral politics. Yes, they may elect a few similarly radical members of Congress — who, at this moment, are giving the Republican speaker of the House a terrible headache — and they may even be strong enough again to choose a major party nominee. But if these voters are a distinct minority, that nominee will be easily defeated at the ballot box. That is, unless the institutions of our democracy amplify that minority’s influence — which they do.