Dems Bet a Vote Against Biden in Michigan Now Will Move Him on Israel and Save Him Later

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

Former Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) is clear about who he wants to win the presidency in November.

Donald Trump can’t get anywhere near the White House ever again,” Levin told The Daily Beast in an interview.

“Therefore, Joe Biden needs to win,” he said.

But the path to Biden’s victory in November, according to Levin, takes a detour through some embarrassing territory.

Biden Says Israel-Hamas Ceasefire Deal is Just Days Away

Levin—a Jewish Democrat who served two terms in the House before losing a tough primary last cycle—is one of thousands of Democrats expected to vote “uncommitted” during the Michigan primary on Tuesday, and he said it’s all part of the plan to help Biden win in November.

Levin’s logic, which he warned “might not be good,” is that Biden needs to course-correct on his administration’s posture toward Israel and Gaza. A weak performance in the critical state on Tuesday, Levin said, might just be the wake-up call the president needs, as the cries of disaffected Democrats that Israel is committing genocide largely fall on deaf ears in the administration.

Basically, the idea is to lose the battle now so Biden can win the war against Trump later.

Levin and political strategists both agree that Biden’s roadmap back to the White House almost certainly goes through Michigan, a state he won by just over 15,000 votes in 2020. But Michigan remains very much in play. Trump clinched the state’s 16 electoral votes in 2016, and recent Michigan polling shows Trump up 45 percent to Biden’s 41 percent.

Which is why Levin’s gambit is so odd—but also may make some sense.

“It’s like you’ve got a friend who’s whistling down a beautiful woodland trail towards one of those cartoon traps with a big hole and netting,” Levin told The Daily Beast. “You know and they don’t see it, but you do. You have to warn them.”

The “trap” Levin speaks of is the belief that Democrats will fall in line behind Biden simply because he’s not Trump. That may have largely happened in 2020. But plenty of Democrats are expressing genuine outrage over Biden’s unconditional support for military aid to Israel.

Polling shows that Biden has troubling approval ratings—even among Democrats. And he faces vulnerabilities with the constituencies that elected him in the first place, namely young people and Arab Americans who are aghast at Biden’s Israel policies.

Abbas Alawieh—a Democratic strategist and former staffer for progressive Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Cori Bush (D-MO)—is a part of the so-called “Listen to Michigan” effort to whip uncommitted Democratic voters in the Michigan primary.

Like Levin, Alawieh believes that if Biden is going to win Michigan, he must restore relations with Democrats who oppose the administration’s Israel policies.

Muslim Leaders in Michigan Axe Meeting With Biden Campaign

Alawieh told The Daily Beast that “anybody who knows anything” about how critical Arab Americans and young people were to Biden in 2020 “knows that President Biden needs to move on this issue.”

“Really the ball is in his court,” Alawieh said, calling on Biden to urge a ceasefire, to stop blocking U.N. resolutions advocating for a ceasefire, and to stop doing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bidding.

“Embrace your base that overwhelmingly wants a ceasefire,” Alawieh said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Unlike the little-known “cease-fire” write-in campaign in New Hampshire, the uncommitted effort in Michigan is highly organized and has received notable media attention. In a Monday memo from the uncommitted campaign, activists reported spending $200,000 between advertising, voter contact, and operations. They also have a stated goal of earning at least 10,000 uncommitted votes—about the difference between Trump and Hillary Clinton in Michigan in 2016.

The effort also has powerful allies like the Sen. Bernie Sanders-backed group “Our Revolution.” But it’s perhaps Tlaib who has ignited the most media frenzy. The fiery progressive endorsed Listen to Michigan’s campaign earlier this month. (Notably, her sister, Layla Elabed, is the effort’s campaign manager.)

“This is the way you can raise our voices,” Tlaib said at a rally earlier this month. “Don’t make us even more invisible. Right now we feel completely neglected and just unseen by our government.”

Supporters of the uncommitted movement are potentially staking the 2024 election on the hope that garnering enough votes will convince Biden to move on his Israel positions—something Biden seemed to do to some extent Monday night when he said he was hopeful there may be a ceasefire within a week.

But the “Listen to Michigan” movement is staking quite a bit on this idea that a campaign against Biden now will actually help him—and not hurt him—later.

While Biden has been resistant to call on Israel to stop its military campaign in Gaza, Trump could actually exacerbate the situation even more, with Israel’s far-right leaders already saying they believe Trump would give them even more freedom to go after Hamas.

In that sense, the decision to attack Biden is even riskier; not only are Democratic activists damaging Biden politically, but they also may be making life easier for a candidate who would be even worse on the issue of Israel than Biden.

If the activists are wrong—which veteran Michigan pollster Bernie Porn fears they may be—“the Listen to Michigan effort could well help to give the election to Trump.”

“It is possible that Biden may have already lost the election,” Porn said in a statement to The Daily Beast.

If Listen to Michigan organizers aren’t careful, he said, “they could be playing a very dangerous game that could hand the election over to Trump, mostly because of Biden’s age, which will make life for civilians in Gaza even more difficult, which is hard to believe but indeed possible.”

In short, it’s a risky electoral gambit. (The February EPIC-MRA poll found that 53 percent of Michigan voters support a ceasefire.)

Still, many uncommitted backers have been clear that their effort is just for the primary, and not a call to reject Biden in a head-to-head against Trump—at least, not yet. But powerful Biden allies in Michigan, like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, have warned that stirring up anti-Biden sentiment now could hand Trump a victory later.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) told CNN on Monday that the uncommitted push is “certainly not helpful,” though she said she thought the Biden administration was “listening to them.”

While Biden has not called for a ceasefire or to place conditions on Israel aid as protestors have called for, his messaging has shifted ahead of the Michigan primary. Last week, he put out a blunt social media statement that was a departure from his previous messaging.

On top of his rhetorical shift Monday night, Biden has also reportedly been more critical privately of Netanyahu, supposedly “giving him hell” behind closed doors recently. But supporters of the ceasefire say they haven’t seen enough from the president publicly.

In an effort to assuage concerns from Muslim and Arab American communities in Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan—where over half of the residents are of Middle Eastern and North African descent—the Biden administration held meetings with local community leaders earlier this month.

In a Feb. 9 meeting with senior Biden advisers Steve Benjamin, Tom Perez and other top officials, Alawieh said they privately confessed that Biden had failed in his messaging on the Israel-Gaza war. Alawieh told The Daily Beast the admissions were “mortifying.”

“The vast majority of people that I come in touch with don’t want Donald Trump or his white supremacist buddies anywhere near the White House,” Alawieh said. “But we’re also experiencing that President Biden is losing support.”

Many young progressives have been vocal ceasefire advocates, criticizing Biden for his silence. The Biden administration has invested heavily in bringing young people into the fold in 2024 and ramping up youth enthusiasm. They’ve hired a youth engagement director months before this point in the last election cycle, and Biden surrogates have made college stops around the country. Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) visited the University of Michigan last week.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks to U.S. governors attending the National Governors Association winter meeting.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks to U.S. governors attending the National Governors Association winter meeting.

Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

The co-chair of the University of Michigan College Democrats, Alec Hughes, is supporting Biden in the primary and told The Daily Beast he anticipates many of his young Democratic peers will do the same. He also said he expects that many young people voting uncommitted will ultimately vote for Biden in November.

But Hughes said he’d imagine “quite a few students on campus who might think differently, that are voting uncommitted here in the primary and then will still be re-evaluating their choice in November as to whether they vote for President Biden or not.”

That tension leaves progressive groups who are sympathetic to the cause but terrified of a second Trump presidency in an awkward spot. Progressive group Indivisible struck a diplomatic tone addressing the “uncommitted” campaign, illustrating the tricky position Democratic organizations and candidates find themselves in at the moment.

“Indivisibles in Michigan are supportive of the calls for a ceasefire, as are most Democratic voters,” said Emily Phelps, Indivisible’s national press secretary. She noted that members of the group are also “all aligned on doing everything in their power” to beat Trump.

“While folks might have different thoughts on this specific tactic, the ultimate goals of saving lives, pursuing peace and defeating fascism are essentially consensus positions for Indivisible groups across the state,” Phelps said in a statement.

But whether the uncommitted movement reaches its goal of 10,000 votes Tuesday or not, Biden will continue to feel the heat from voters disillusioned by his positions on the war in Gaza.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there were additional efforts in other states and beyond,” Alawieh said. “The push for a ceasefire that saves lives does not end here.”

Sam Brodey contributed to this report.

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