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Week in politics: Biden's Philadelphia speech; Why Sarah Palin lost

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden spoke to the country outside of Philadelphia's Independence Hall this week and bluntly identified those who he said, quote, "represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic," Donald Trump and his Make America Great Again movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: MAGA Republicans look at America and see carnage and darkness and despair. They spread fear and lies - lies told for profit and power. But I see a different America - an America with an unlimited future, an America that's about to take off.

SIMON: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: A number of Republicans have said they felt attacked by this speech, but was the president trying to reach them?

ELVING: It was pitched at them, yes. But in baseball, you'd call it a brushback - high and inside and meant to get the batter back on his heels. Well, Biden might have wanted to be the president who brought back bipartisanship in Washington, but that was at one time. We're well past that now. The midterms are too close. And while Biden was careful to say he was only knocking Trump Republicans, there are far more Lindsey Grahams than Liz Cheneys out there right now. Most Republicans don't think they can separate themselves from Trump. He still has his grip on the people Republicans are counting on to vote and give money this fall.

Biden's speech was more about rallying the base on the Democratic side like on the closing night of a political convention because many Democrats see Trump as a clear and present danger to American democracy and the rule of law. And they desperately want to hear Biden call him out on it.

SIMON: According to reports, White House aides had been debating whether to take a stand like this again. And did they sense an opening this week with the ongoing revelations of what was found at Mar-a-Lago?

ELVING: You know, you can argue that when your nemesis is in the news in a negative light, you should stand aside and just let that light shine. Biden could have let the spotlight stay on Mar-a-Lago and the documents and Trump's ever-changing excuses and his demands for immediate reinstatement or a do-over election. But the White House also wanted a splashy event of its own to kick off the Labor Day weekend. That's a traditional thing for Democrats, and the hope was to contrast Trump's travails with Biden on the upswing. There were some visual and audio issues with the speech if you watched the other night. It may have been less than inspiring in the delivery, but there was a message in the guts of the speech - themes such as the contrast between carnage and confidence, metaphors that Joe Biden will likely come back to in the fall.

SIMON: Sarah Palin, who needs no further introduction, obviously, former Republican vice presidential candidate, lost the race for Alaska's House seat. But did she lose it for just a few months? Or is this a sign that the fortunes of Democrats are improving?

ELVING: There is another election for this seat for the next two years that comes in November. But it, too, will be done with this new ranked choice voting system. And, you know, this was not really a surprise for Alaskans. Democrat Mary Peltola has looked strong throughout this process this year. She won the right to finish out the rest of the late Don Young's term. She has a lot of appeal in her own right. She will be the first Alaska native to serve in Congress.

Palin, on the other hand, may be the most famous Alaskan in history, but that does not make her all that popular at home. She's had high negatives ever since she quit midway through her term as governor a decade ago. And high negatives are fatal in ranked choice voting because your first-place votes aren't enough to elect you if you don't get an outright majority. And Palin didn't get anywhere close to that. And in the runoff, she did not win the plurality and was not the second choice of enough voters to overcome that.

SIMON: Government reported 315,000 new jobs created last month. How do you read that?

ELVING: A Goldilocks number - not too hot, meaning inflationary, nor too cold, pointing toward recession. So this offers some hope that the higher rates that the Federal Reserve has already imposed are starting to work - dialing down demand enough that inflation may cool a bit, and future rate increases might not have to be as great or last as long.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.