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Some Thoughts About Tonight’s Michigan Primary

 Member Newsletter
February 27, 2024 1:24 p.m.
LANSING, MI - AUGUST 02: A person arrives at a polling location to vote in the Michigan Primary Election on August 2, 2022 in Lansing, Michigan. This Midterm election, voters in Michigan will cast their ballots for t... LANSING, MI - AUGUST 02: A person arrives at a polling location to vote in the Michigan Primary Election on August 2, 2022 in Lansing, Michigan. This Midterm election, voters in Michigan will cast their ballots for the first time in districts that were newly drawn by a new nonpartisan redistricting committee. Michigan voters will also select their candidates for Governor for the upcoming November Midterm General Election, either the current democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer or one of 5 republican gubernatorial candidates. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images) MORE LESS

Here are a few thoughts on the Michigan primary tonight, in which both parties’ returns will be closely watched but especially the Democrats’. It will be the first clear electoral test of the degree of dissatisfaction with President Biden over the Israel/Hamas war, especially in the Arab-American and Muslim-American communities.

One thing to keep in mind is that there are a couple movements trying to participate in the backlash against the President. There’s an “Abandon Biden” group which wants to do what it says, which is get as many people as possible to refuse to vote for President Biden in the November election. The consequences of that decision be damned.

The main focus tonight will be on those pushing for an “uncommitted” vote. The key thing to know is that this group very specifically does not have the same professed goal. “Uncommitted” in this case is best understood as providing a safe harbor of sorts for Democrats who want to signal outrage or opposition without refusing Biden support in the November election.

For those of us who think the November election is a binary choice between Biden and Trump with existential stakes on the line, this is an important and valid distinction. Just because you have to be there to vote for Biden in November doesn’t mean you have to squelch all criticism in the meantime. Or at least that’s the idea. For most.

There are also clearly very different forces operating under the “uncommitted” banner. On the one hand they include people like former Rep. Andy Levin, a liberal zionist and one time synagogue President who is a supporter of Biden’s reelection but also an opponent of his Gaza policy and appears to see the “uncommitted” banner as a way to express opposition and outrage while keeping people within the Democratic and Biden tent. For others like Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud and Michigan House Majority Leader Abraham Aiyash, it is more a show of strength, to put up numbers that show Biden the risk of not changing his policy well in advance of November. But many in this latter group are setting the threshold for what Biden has to do so high that they seem to be all but foreclosing the chance to support him.

All that said, “never” supporting Biden — as the “Abandon Biden” movement, and many others in the broader, left-wing protest community, promise to do — is a strong word and one that is, in its nature, hard to climb down from. So as much as I have very strong disagreements and, at the moment, quite negative feelings about the people who are mounting the “uncommitted” campaign, we should not lose sight of the fact that they are very intentionally and conspicuously keeping at least one foot in the Democratic tent. That is the sine qua non thing that everyone who abhors Trump can and should demand from everyone who is not eager to see another Trump presidency.

With that said, let me note a slightly different point.

It comes from this Politico profile of Michigan House Majority Leader Abraham Aiyash, a key supporter of the “uncommitted” push. But it could have come from countless other similar pieces over recent months. Down toward the end of the article the author includes quotes from top Michigan Democrats Debbie Dingell and Gretchen Whitmer essentially saying that at the end of the day not voting for Biden means electing Donald Trump and those who don’t will own that outcome. Aiyash responds by saying: “I think it is very insulting when folks come to Arab and Muslim communities and say, ‘if you don’t support Biden, you are effectively supporting Trump.’ It’s disrespectful to communities that were impacted.”

As I said, Aiyash is not alone in this rejoinder. It’s standard. But it’s also a bridge too far. Every individual and every community has to judge for themselves what their limits are, whether a point of principle or pain is so grave that they are willing to be part of placing Donald Trump back in the White House. Indeed, Aiyash is on his solidest ground in saying that it is a measure of the intensity of his feelings about the situation that he is considering not supporting Biden in November. But it cannot be a disrespect or a further offense to say squarely and directly what the outcome of the decision he and others are themselves considering may well be. It cannot be a disrespect simply to state the reality of the situation.

As is the case in virtually every U.S. presidential election, the choice becomes a binary one. There are two possible outcomes: a Trump presidency or a Biden presidency. There’s no running away from that choice. For members or erstwhile members of the Democratic coalition, sitting it out is a vote for Trump. No getting away from that. The power of this kind of high octane protest politics is precisely that the stakes are so high. It simply doesn’t wash to brandish those stakes and then cry foul when anyone else invokes them back at you.

The argument that it is disrespectful might be stronger if Biden’s team were to say, “Tough luck, you don’t have any other options.” But that’s hardly the case. The Biden administration has been practically falling over itself in an effort to mend fences, and has also been shifting its actual policy — both for domestic political reasons and because the situation on the ground as well as internationally has changed.

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