The Uncommitted

I live in a “Super Tuesday” state, which means I got to cast a ballot for the Democratic nomination for president. I voted for Marianne Williamson. (Remember her?) It’s not because I’m a diehard supporter of hers (Marianneros? She can use that for free), or think she has a snowball’s chance of winning (she’s suspended and unsuspended her campaign once already). It’s because I live in a state that didn’t have an “uncommitted” option, so Palestinian and human rights activists recommended anyone who wanted to send a message to President Biden about his support for Israel’s genocide in Gaza fill in the bubble for her instead.

“Uncommitted” has been the breakout star of a late primary cycle otherwise dominated by the existential slog toward a sequel of the 2020 election (and, one hopes, the end of the trilogy that started in 2016). It started when the option garnered 101,000 votes — 13 percent — in the crucial swing state of Michigan. It was a sign that the fury and sadness felt over Biden’s murderous actions and inactions in Palestine—on the part of many of the 200,000 Muslim and 300,000 Middle Eastern and North African voters in a state that Biden won by just 154,188 votes in 2020—is not going away.

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Last night, “uncommitted” won at least 45,914 votes in Minnesota—nearly one in five votes cast, and enough to send at least 11 delegates to the convention in Chicago. The Absence of Candidates beat the third-place candidate, Dean Phillips—a congressman from that state—by a ratio of nearly 2.5 to 1. In North Carolina—a sometimes swingy state that Democrats came into the night desperately hoping might replace Michigan in their column—“no preference” racked up over 88,021 votes. That was good for 12.7% of the vote in a state that Trump won by just over 1% four years ago.

Even in tiny American Samoa—a de jure U.S. colony that is not allowed to vote for the president who governs them—Biden ended up splitting delegates with a little-known Maryland businessman who called for a ceasefire in Gaza in February.

Not all of those votes were part of the coordinated effort launched by the Listen to Michigan campaign to protest Biden’s support for the Israeli genocide in Gaza, it’s true. Voting is a notoriously unclear method of signaling—there are so many reasons for someone to fill in a bubble, or not. But in this case, the combination of votes and clear public messaging worked to the protesters’ benefit. At the very least, Biden’s team seems to have gotten their memo. It would explain the decision to send Vice President Kamala Harris to float a trial balloon, exclaiming, “there must be an immediate ceasefire” to soundbite-friendly shouts and cheers in Selma, Alabama, on Sunday.

The fact that Harris immediately and programmatically walked it back (“for at least six weeks …” she said, slurring a bit) and shifted the onus onto Hamas to “agree to that deal” (generally, it’s up to the more powerful belligerent to agree to stop the killing) was less important, in this case, than what it symbolizes: the first Black vice president, standing in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge at an anniversary commemoration of Bloody Sunday—as close as you can get to a holy place and a sacred time for the 2024 Democratic Party—at least pretending to accede to the specific demand of a vocal, growing, and increasingly rebellious bloc of her coalition. Given that the Anti-Defamation League—historically a major Democratic stakeholder—has deemed such calls evidence of “a deep antisemitic rot within the left,” Harris’ emphatic use of the word “ceasefire”—even in a tepid, caveat-filled trial balloon, should be taken as evidence that the effort is working. And, in my opinion, it’s evidence that the pressure should be ratcheted up even more.

Democratic strategists and reactionary centrist types seem content to downplay the voter revolt; I’ve seen several hang their hat on CNN Senior Data Reporter Harry Enten’s insistence that Biden’s problem is “not with the left” but rather “moderate Democrats and independents.” (Enten is, among other things, making a basic category error: conflating Muslims, Arab-Americans, and anti-genocide voters in general in with people who tell pollsters they are “very liberal.”) And even if it was a trivial minority, there is clear support among Americans in general and Democrats in particular for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. So why not give it a shot, politically speaking?

Cynics on the left (but I repeat myself) counter that Democratic strategists are surely aware of, as one poster put it, “the ploy of pretending not to back Biden but then voting for him in the general election”—arguing that the primary protest votes are unlikely to force a change. And it’s true, some will “come back home” in November, as Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz predicted yesterday regardless of any change of policy, driven by the threat of an overtly authoritarian regime that has indicated repeatedly that it will never willingly relinquish power again.

But not everyone is going to just “revert.” An exit poll conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations found that just 8% of all Muslim voters in Michigan said they would vote for Biden if the election were held today—tied with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and five points behind Trump. (The big winner was “Other” with 40%; Cornel West came in second with 25%, even though as of now he isn’t even on the Michigan ballot.)

That leaves, perhaps, well, Listen(ing) to Michigan, among others. On the group’s FAQ, they are clear about their motives and strategy: “We are well-aware that Trump is not our friend,” they say. But, they add: “There is a long time between now and November for Biden to change his policies and earn support from Democratic voters.” This is different from aimless protest voters, for whom third-party voting or abstentions are a perennial act of self-actualization. They are saying loud and clear what they want: for Biden to change his policies regarding Israel and Palestine.

If you’re wondering what specific policies they might be talking about, you could start with the fact that the Biden administration has approved over 100 separate arms sales to Israel since Oct. 7, according to the Washington Post. It is a flurry of weapons sales that, as former senior Biden administration official and now-president of Refugees International Jeremy Konyndyk said “really strongly suggests that the Israeli campaign”—a campaign that has led to the deaths of over 30,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children—would not be sustainable without this level of U.S. support.” That is in addition to the $3.3 billion the U.S. provides Israel annually, nearly all of which goes to the Israeli military; nor the $14 billion Biden and the Democrats want to send to Israel in further military aid that is currently tied up in wrangling over Ukraine and border spending on Capitol Hill.

You don’t have to do what the New York Times tried to do recently and pretend like Donald Trump’s views on the Gaza War are unknown. (Is anyone going to bring up the conflict of interest that Times’ Jonathan Swan and Maggie Haberman have a major book deal with Simon & Schuster about Trump’s 2024 campaign; a deal that will be worth significantly more to them if Trump wins? Oh wait I just did.) Trump’s position on Israel and Palestine is obvious, and predictably murderous: He affirmed on Fox & Friends on Tuesday that he is “firmly in Israel’s camp,” as co-host Brian Kilmeade put it, and said of Israel’s Gaza offensive: “You have to finish the problem.” And as James Risen noted this week: “There are limits to Biden’s support for Netanyahu. Trump and the Republican Party have none.”

In other words, a single-issue voter whose sole concern is the safety of Gazans and the future of a Palestinian state would not be well served by casting a ballot for the dictator-in-waiting or his party of Christian Nationalist weirdos in November, if Gazans could even wait that long. (They can’t.) But that doesn’t mean, and there are no indications, that such voters will feel compelled to cast a ballot for an incumbent who claimed to be a defender of liberal values and human rights, only to betray millions of people—people who in many cases look, sound, and worship like they do—to generational suffering and mass death at the hands of an ethno-nationalist regime that happens to be historically geopolitically aligned with the United States.

It is too late for the Biden-Harris campaign to earn back all of their support, just as it is too late to save the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians. For everyone else though, there’s no time to lose.

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