Biden’s Standing With Arab American Voters Seems Shaky Post-Michigan

Happy Wednesday! If you’re concerned lately that you might not be at your best at work, take comfort in knowing you’re not the only one underperforming this primary season.

Up to Speed

  • President Joe Biden appeared on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers for a lengthy interview Monday, taking questions from Meyers and reminiscing with fellow guest and comedian Amy Poehler. Some of the interview was lighthearted, with Biden joking about the “Dark Brandon” meme and conspiracy theories that he is in cahoots with Taylor Swift. But Meyers also asked substantive questions about Biden’s policy agenda post-2024, the Israel-Hamas war, and concerns about the president’s age. “It’s about how old your ideas are,” the 81-year-old president said, drawing a contrast with the proposed agenda of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. “He wants to take us back on Roe v. Wade, he wants to take us back on a whole range of issues that for 50, 60 years have been solid American positions.” 
  • Biden criticized Israel’s conduct throughout the war during the interview, while reaffirming his support for the Jewish state. “You need not be a Jew to be a Zionist. I’m a Zionist. Were there no Israel, there’s not a Jew in the world that’d be safe,” he told Meyers. The next day, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the Democratic congresswoman and Palestinian-American who has been critical of the Biden administration’s approach to the war, posted a video on social media saying she had voted “uncommitted” on Tuesday’s Michigan Democratic primary. Tlaib, who has demanded the U.S. back a “ceasefire” in the war, encouraged others to vote this way against Biden to send a message to the president. 
  • The Late Night visit marked Biden’s first TV interview since the president appeared on CBS News’ 60 Minutes in October. His dearth of TV hits outside of official appearances at the White House became even more noticeable when Biden—for the second year in a row—skipped the customary presidential interview airing before the Super Bowl. The Biden campaign has argued the move was strategic, but some Democrats quietly told reporters they found the decision alarming.
  • Concerns about a government shutdown appear to be abating after a Tuesday meeting at the White House between congressional leaders from both parties and President Biden. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters he was “very optimistic” that Congress could pass a spending bill by this weekend to avoid a shutdown, while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said all sides are making “good progress.” Missing, however, was a concrete plan to avert a funding crisis that could get enough votes in both houses of Congress. The meeting also included what Schumer described as an “intense” discussion of the situation in Ukraine as part of an effort by those gathered to urge Johnson to bring Ukraine funding to a vote.
  • Veepstakes update: Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota reportedly met with Donald Trump Monday at his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Florida. Noem is considered a potential running mate for Trump and was among the top choices for VP among attendees of last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference.

In Michigan, Biden Struggles With Arab-American Voters

Attendees listen to speeches during an "Uncommitted for Joe Biden" primary election night watch party on February 27, 2024, in Dearborn, Michigan. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Attendees listen to speeches during an "Uncommitted for Joe Biden" primary election night watch party on February 27, 2024, in Dearborn, Michigan. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Michigan voters went to the polls Tuesday to give President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump large victories in their respective presidential primaries. But while Trump continues to grow his vote share (68 percent in Michigan to Nikki Haley’s 26.5 percent) on his clear route to the Republican nomination, there was a sign of discontent within the Democratic ranks.

Biden won 81 percent of the vote and just under 618,000 votes while his opponents, Marianne Williamson and Dean Phillips, registered in the low single-digits. However, there were 100,000 votes cast in the Democratic party for “uncommitted”—a vessel on the Michigan ballot often used for a protest vote. As mentioned above, Rep. Rashida Tlaib was perhaps the most prominent voice urging her fellow Michigan Democrats to protest Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war by way of this uncommitted line. 

After months of warnings, members of the state’s relatively sizable Arab-American population seem to have made their voices heard in the presidential primary. The Detroit suburb of Dearborn has the largest Arab-American population per capita in the country and is located in Wayne County, where more than 26,000 Democratic voters (or 17 percent) went uncommitted. That share of uncommitted votes was matched only in Washtenaw County, which centers on Ann Arbor, the home of the University of Michigan. There’s no significant Arab-American population there, but the progressives and young people living in and around this quintessential college town may have had similar objections to Biden’s foreign policy, with more than 8,000 voting uncommitted.

How concerned should Biden be that a noticeable number of his party’s primary voters in a key swing state went against him? While the raw number of uncommitted votes is astounding—the ballot line has typically received around 20,000 votes in recent Michigan Democratic primaries—it was still only about 13 percent of the statewide Democratic vote. That is just slightly higher than the 11 percent who went uncommitted in Michigan in 2012, the last time an incumbent Democrat was running for reelection. That year, Barack Obama cracked just over 174,000 votes while running unopposed. On Tuesday, Biden earned more than 3.5 times that in raw votes.

The next two Democratic primaries in Michigan, 2016 and 2020, saw more than 1 million total votes cast. Competition breeds participation, and in both cycles, Michigan’s primary saw showdowns between two leading candidates. In 2016, Bernie Sanders eked out a narrow win over Hillary Clinton, with each candidate getting nearly 600,000 votes. Four years later, Biden defeated Sanders in Michigan, earning 840,000 votes to Sanders’ roughly 575,000. So for Biden, with nothing but token competition, to rack up more primary votes (about 618,000) than either candidate in 2016 looks like a sign of his strength within the party.

Nevertheless, the significance of the uncommitted vote in Michigan is twofold. First, these voters are crucial for Biden to win back into his camp for the general election. While he defeated Trump in that state by more than 150,000 votes in 2020, Trump won Michigan by just 11,000 votes four years earlier. If Michigan’s Arab-American and young progressive voters continue their protest against Biden into November, the state could swing back to the GOP. But will these Democratic voters really stay home or vote for a third party when Trump is on the ballot? The Biden campaign is counting on them coming home to, at the very least, vote against the bigger threat.

Second, whether Biden’s policy toward Israel and the war will shift as a result of these domestic political concerns remains to be seen. A Biden policy shift isn’t risk-free, however, as pro-Israel Democrats continue to argue they are also an important bloc of Biden’s coalition whom the president can’t afford to alienate.

“Nationally we know that the pro-Israel community is far larger than the anti-Israel segment. In addition, such a move would make the President appear both crassly political and a flip flopper, turning a position issue into a character issue,” wrote Rachel Rosen, the communications director for Democratic Majority for Israel, in a memo to reporters Tuesday night. “Unless you know how many votes the President would lose by changing positions, you can’t assess the impact of the uncommitted voters on the general election.”

Haley Voters Feel Unwelcome in Trump’s GOP

For all of the talk about whether GOP primary voters supporting Nikki Haley over Donald Trump might abandon the former president in November, a new dynamic is unfolding with these grassroots conservatives that has even broader implications for the future of the GOP than how they pull the lever in November.

As Drucker reports from South Carolina, many of these Republican voters—conventional conservatives who have supported GOP candidates for years—are backing Haley because they feel increasingly unwelcome in the party. They believe they’re not just unwanted by Trump, but by the legions of grassroots voters the former president has drawn to the Republican coalition since he first announced his White House bid in June of 2015. 

From his story, which hit the site Wednesday morning:

… there is a broader issue motivating their abandonment of Trump that transcends the former president and threatens to fragment the GOP, not only this year but far into the future. 

Many traditional Republican voters like the Brantleys, who have supported GOP candidates for years, are backing the longshot Haley instead of returning to Trump because they feel abandoned by the former president. Even more than that, these Ronald Reagan-era Republicans say the voters fueling Trump’s staying power inside the party are treating them with contempt and want them out.

“I don’t like being told that if I don’t believe a certain way, that I’m not a Republican,” Mike Brantley, a 56-year-old Army veteran, said Friday. The Brantleys are residents of Staten Island, a New York City borough where Trump remains popular, and were in South Carolina visiting family. They attended the Haley rally partly to encourage her to keep running even after the former president secures the 1,215 convention delegates he needs to become the presumptive Republican nominee. “I think she’s probably going to be independent at some point,” Mike Brantley said with a sense of hope in his voice.

Down the homestretch of the South Carolina campaign, The Dispatch spoke with several other voters who expressed similar feelings, many of which can best be described as the early stages of political homelessness. And this is not simply because they prefer not to vote for Trump, who turns 78 in June—and can’t imagine backing President Joe Biden, 81. Critically, it’s because they do not believe that Trump supporters generally are willing to tolerate them—or their views on fiscal, social, and foreign policy issues.

Exhibit A, as far as they are concerned, was Trump’s vow issued just after the January 23 New Hampshire primary that any contributor to the Haley campaign would be “permanently barred from the MAGA camp. … We don’t want them and we won’t accept them.”

Message received. “Unfortunately, the MAGA people are not going to welcome us and they’re not going to like us,” said retiree Debbie Buck, who voted for Trump twice but now supports Haley and attended her final South Carolina rally in Mount Pleasant.

Most of these Republican regulars Drucker spoke to made clear that they might yet vote for Trump over President Joe Biden. At the very least, they can’t see themselves voting for Biden, even if they don’t back Trump. However, while there’s always been a reasonable expectation that habitual Republican or Democratic voters will back their respective parties in the general election, this time might be different.

“The danger for Trump is that a significant percentage of traditional Republican voters—those who helped him win the White House in the first place—might never ‘come home’ in November because they no longer feel at home in the GOP,” Drucker writes. 

Read the whole thing here.

Notable and Quotable

“I don’t have any announcement about that today.”

—Sen. Mitch McConnell, when asked why he has not yet endorsed Donald Trump for president, February 27, 2024
Comments (187)
Join The Dispatch to participate in the comments.
Load More