In a press conference held at the Wisconsin State Capitol building in Madison on Jan. 4, retired Navy Rear Admiral Michael Smith warned that former President Donald Trump represents what he called an existential threat to the United States.
“The election that’s in 2024 is clearly not a traditional election where you are voting for the policies of one party against another,” Smith said. “Make no mistake: This year, democracy is on the ballot.”
Smith is the founder and president of the nonprofit National Security Leaders for America, which describes its mission as protecting democracy in the United States.
During the press conference, Smith went on to note that it is an unwritten rule for retired members of the armed forces to be apolitical, but the threat that Trump and his “ultra-MAGA accomplices” poses compelled him to speak out. “Trump must never again be allowed in the Oval Office. No one who proposes suspending the Constitution should be anywhere in the chain of command, let alone have access to nuclear codes,” Smith said.
Joining Smith at the event were representatives of the groups Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the League of Women Voters (Wisconsin), and Souls to the Polls (Wisconsin).
Trump is the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, ahead by a significant margin in public polling ahead of other Republican presidential candidates.
In 2019, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of improperly using the office of the presidency to obtain information from the government of Ukraine about his political opponents. Two years later, Trump was again impeached by the House on a charge of incitement to insurrection after calling on his supporters to “fight like hell” before a mob of them attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In both cases, the Republican-led Senate voted to acquit Trump.
Trump is also facing criminal charges in Georgia and at the federal level connected to his efforts to overturn the legal result of the election.
Trump referred to his political opponents as “vermin” in a campaign speech on Nov. 12, 2023, using rhetoric that historians have compared to speeches delivered by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
Those comments were followed by a December 2023 interview with Fox News personality Sean Hannity during which Trump said he would not act as a dictator “other than day one” if he won another term as president.
Biden launched his successful 2020 campaign by contrasting his respect for the democratic process with Trump’s authoritarian stance, which he described as a “battle for the soul of America.” As president, Biden has criticized conspiracy theories about the electoral system and called on the public to reject Trump-backed candidates who say the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Biden and his reelection campaign have indicated that he views the upcoming campaign as a contest between democracy and authoritarianism.