At New York I asked an obvious question that wasn’t being asked elsewhere.
A new national poll from the New York Times–Siena College reinforces a development that’s getting clearer every day: Joe Biden’s strength among Democrats and other past supporters is being steadily sapped by deep unhappiness with his staunch support of Israel in its war with Hamas. The phenomenon is particularly evident among young (under-30) voters, a left-leaning group that astonishingly favors Donald Trump over Biden by a 49 percent to 43 percent margin in the Times–Siena poll. While there are a variety of contributing factors to Biden’s poor standing with young voters — including his age, cost-of-living concerns, and unfulfilled promises on student loans and climate change — Times data wizard Nate Cohn sees a lot of evidence that the war is pivotal:
“Usually, it’s not worth dwelling too much on a subsample from a single poll, but this basic story about young voters is present in nearly every major survey at this point. Our own battleground-state surveys in the fall showed something similar, with Mr. Biden ahead by a single point among those 18 to 29. Either figure is a big shift from Mr. Biden’s 21-point lead in our final poll before the midterms or his 10-point lead in our last national poll in July.
“And there’s a plausible explanation for the shift in recent months: Israel …
“[Young] voters in the survey took an extraordinarily negative view of Israel’s recent conduct: They overwhelming say Israel isn’t doing enough to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza, believe Israel isn’t interested in peace, and think Israel should stop its military campaign, even if it means Hamas isn’t eliminated.”
If it’s true that Biden is losing voters to Trump because he’s tilting too far toward Israel in this war, then the question has to be asked: Do these voters know Trump’s position on this war? Do they imagine Trump would be more benevolent toward the suffering people of Gaza?
Anyone familiar with the 45th president’s Middle Eastern policies — and, for that matter, his Islamophobic immigration policies — while he was in office would mock the idea of his being more sympathetic to Palestinians than Biden is. His own January 2020 “peace plan” for the region, unveiled with his longtime ally Bibi Netanyahu at his side, would have “give[n] Israel most of what it has sought over decades of conflict while offering the Palestinians the possibility of a state with limited sovereignty,” as the New York Times described it:
“Mr. Trump’s plan would guarantee that Israel would control a unified Jerusalem as its capital and not require it to uproot any of the settlements in the West Bank that have provoked Palestinian outrage and alienated much of the world …
“President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority immediately denounced the plan as a ‘conspiracy deal’ unworthy of serious consideration, making the decades-long pursuit of a so-called two-state solution appear more distant than ever. ‘We say a thousand times over: no, no, no,’ Mr. Abbas said on Tuesday in Ramallah, in the West Bank.”
While the “Trump peace plan” is DOA, the former president can (and often does) boast that he gave Netanyahu the gift of a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and recognition of that divided and contested city as Israel’s capital, itself a blow to Palestinian aspirations. He also frequently cited the belief of Republican (and Likud) mega-donor Sheldon Adelson that a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians was “impossible” because of a mutual legacy of hatred.
But what’s interesting is how little — quantitatively or substantively — Trump has had to say about the war currently underway between Israel and Hamas.
He got attention right after it broke out for calling Hamas’s allies the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah (which many feared would join in the war against Israel) “very smart,” while criticizing Netanyahu on petty grounds that had nothing to do with the conflict.
Yet even as his Republican rivals for the 2024 presidential nomination competed with one another to show who could be more vicious in encouraging uninhibited Israeli military action in Gaza, Trump’s comments have mostly revolved around his narcissistic claims that this war — like the Russia-Ukraine War — would never have happened if he were still in office. Apparently, he believes his fearsome presence in Washington would have deterred Hamas from its original plan of attack, though there’s very little evidence that the U.S., assumed to be a close ally of Israel with Biden in office, was much of a factor in the decision to go to war.
Trump has also used the Israel-Hamas War to reinforce his positions on other issues remote from the conflict itself, particularly his hostility to Muslim refugees, making it clear that Gazans (and, likely, Muslims generally) would be stopped from entering the U.S. if he is reelected.
Nothing in Trump’s self-centered utterances about the war suggests he could change Israel’s conduct or bring about a cease-fire, much less a lasting peace. You have to wonder if, by refusing to address the situation in any concrete detail, the GOP front-runner for the 2024 nomination is deliberately sowing ambiguity about his position or even making himself acceptable to voters who would normally flee in horror from the idea of this advocate of violence, chaos, and prejudice being placed in charge of U.S. foreign policy. Perhaps he’s just trying to lie in the weeds and, for once, keep himself out of the center of a political news story. If young voters indeed are inclined to punish Biden for inadequate sympathy for the Palestinian people, then voting for an independent or third-party candidate or not voting at all would benefit Trump’s campaign even if they cannot bring themselves to vote for the former president himself. His silence or incoherence on the war could well be strategic.