ANALYSIS — President Joe Biden forcefully pinned responsibility Thursday for the Capitol riot on his predecessor — but he never said Donald Trump’s name. In fact, the 46th chief executive rarely does, a stark break from the man he ousted from power.
During a morning speech in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, Biden uttered the phrase “former president” in reference to Trump 17 times. He went directly at Trump’s ongoing claims that the 2020 election was “stolen” by Democrats with this line: “He’s not just a former president, he’s a defeated former president.”
Biden has spent much of his first year in office focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, often pleading with the unvaccinated to get their jabs in the tone of asking for a favor. At other times, he has delivered rather staid messages on repeat about the contents of a bipartisan infrastructure law or ticked off statistics about COVID-19 tests, vaccines or easing a supply chain backup.
On Thursday, while he never used Trump’s name, the sitting president flashed the “Scranton Joe” aspect of his public persona, raising his voice to emphasize claims that Trump and his backers represented the “gravest of threats” to the Constitution on that day. Biden repeatedly pointed into a television camera as if pointing at Trump himself as he delivered what he called “the God’s truth about Jan. 6, 2021.”
“For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said, standing in a room where Capitol Police and other law enforcement officers battled with the mob one year prior.
“We didn’t see a former president who had just rallied the mob to attack sitting in the private dining room of the Oval Office in the White House, watching it all on television, and doing nothing for hours as police were assaulted, lives at risk, the nation’s capital under siege,” he added.
Trump spent four years railing against his predecessor, Barack Obama, and his 2016 election foe, Hillary Clinton, by name. Biden, in contrast, has mostly avoided calling out or criticizing Trump by name.
“We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie. And here’s the truth: the former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election,” Biden said Thursday. “He’s done so because he values power over principle; because he sees his own interests as more important than this country’s interest, than America’s interest; and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution.”
An analysis by Factba.se, a technology company that is part of FiscalNote, parent of CQ Roll Call, shows a 45th commander in chief much more focused on his predecessor than the 46th. The data is based on public statements for both presidents during their first 352 days in office.
During the first three months of his term, for instance, Biden uttered Trump’s name 74 times. Trump, on the other hand, said Obama’s name or referred to his administration or presidency 225 times — including 129 instances in March 2017 alone.
Biden uttered Trump’s name or referred to his administration or presidency the most in March 2021, 41 times — a total driven up by 24 references during a March 25 press conference. He referred to Trump 33 times in October, including 16 during an Oct. 26 campaign rally for Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic governor of Virginia who was seeking that office again.
“But how well do you know Terry’s opponent?” Biden said that night in Arlington, Va., referring to now Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin. “Remember this: I ran against Donald Trump. And Terry is running against an acolyte of Donald Trump.”
He dinged Youngkin for refusing to “allow” Trump to come to Virginia to campaign on his behalf, saying: “What’s he hiding? Is he embarrassed?”
But such specific attack lines have not been the norm for Biden.
For Trump, focusing on the past was — and remains — a go-to move.
He referred to Obama or his administration over 80 times in a month during his first 352 days in office: March, April, June and July 2017. His successor has never hit the 50-reference mark.
Even as Biden was speaking at the Capitol, Trump was busy calling him out.
“Biden, who is destroying our Nation with insane policies of open Borders, corrupt Elections, disastrous energy policies, unconstitutional mandates, and devastating school closures, used my name today to try to further divide America,” Trump said in a statement that ignored Biden not using his name. “This political theater is all just a distraction for the fact Biden has completely and totally failed.”
Polls show Americans unsatisfied with Biden’s performance, but his approval numbers in many surveys are higher than Trump’s at the same point in his term. Still, in another statement blasted out as Biden was getting back to work at the White House, Trump did not hesitate to name names.
“Biden is working hard to try and deflect the incompetent job he is doing, and has done, on the horrible Afghanistan withdrawal (surrender), the Borders, COVID, Inflation, loss of Energy Independence, and much more,” Trump said. “Everything he touches turns to failure. That’s what you get when you have a rigged Election.”
But the former president and his backers have never demonstrated any evidence that the 2020 vote was slanted against him, and despite numerous recounts, audits and investigations. Biden used part of his remarks to note some who once advised Trump see the election differently.
“He can’t accept he lost. Even though that’s what 93 United States senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors, and state officials in every battleground state have all said,” the president said in a quiet hall. “He lost. That’s what 81 million of you did as you voted for a new way forward.”