Ukraine and Israel. American Parties Struggle to Find Internal Unity

The war in the Middle East is rapidly increasing tensions among Democrats. The one in Ukraine is wreaking havoc among the Republicans. In the US, an increasingly accentuated polarization of foreign policy.

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The wars in Ukraine and the Middle East have forced US 2024 presidential candidates to debate sensitive foreign policy issues. While American support for Ukraine is causing divisions among Republicans, the conflict between Israel and Hamas is increasing tensions among Democrats.

Over 70 Republican legislators, for example, voted against an amendment that helped Ukraine, a country at war with Russia last summer. This number increased to one hundred in September for a similar vote. Now, since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, Republican opposition to helping Ukraine has grown. Some Republicans have focused on giving money to Israel instead of helping Ukraine.

Democrats have managed to maintain some unity on Ukraine. Yet, different positions have emerged on Israel. It seems that the majority of lawmakers are in agreement with President Biden’s position on the current situation. Only a small number of House members, mostly progressives, and three senators have called for a cease-fire. However, the decisions made by the Democratic administration could have an impact on the outcome of the upcoming presidential elections in key states. The president’s stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict could demobilize some of the ‘Obama coalition’ voters. This is especially true for young voters and members of minorities.

President Joe Biden visiting Israel

In the Republican ‘civil war’, Ukraine seems to lose.

Democratic voters and lawmakers are supporting Ukraine’s efforts to regain lost territory. This support is ongoing and reflects a commitment to Ukraine’s cause. Even progressive party members strongly supported Ukraine’s defense and voted for economic aid (even though some of them disagreed about military help).

Initially, even Republicans in Congress supported Ukraine with large majorities. Over time, however, many Republican legislators began to express reservations. Polls indicate that support for Ukraine among Republican and independent voters appears to be diminishing. 62% of Republicans and 44% of independents believe the US is providing too much support to Ukraine (Gallup). On the issue of how to end the war, a majority of Republicans (55 percent) now prefer to end the conflict as soon as possible. Independent voters have also shifted significantly on this subject. They too are divided between those who want to continue supporting Ukraine’s efforts to regain its lost territory and those who seek to end the war soon.

These changes in voters’ perception of the conflict have had an impact on the Republican leadership in Congress. This trend grew stronger when the GOP’s far-right wing removed Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker. After weeks of internal conflict Mike Johnson, a religious conservative, was elected Speaker on October 25. He started by proposing a law that gave $14.5 billion to Israel but nothing to Ukraine. The bill was then approved by the Republican-controlled House by a vote of 226 to 196, but it was defeated in the Democratic-led Senate.

US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R)

Even the more “moderate” Senate has recently seen divisions among Republican lawmakers on foreign policy. On one side, some want the United States to exert its global might in a Reagan-style manner. One of those people is Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader. He strongly supports giving money and military help to Ukraine. On the other side, senators like Josh Hawley, Mike Braun, and Ron Johnson, who support Trump, are leading a growing isolationist faction that prioritizes “America first”.

The contrast between the House and the Senate within the GOP is, however, more pronounced. The current stance of House Republicans appears in fact to be in line with former President Donald Trump. The top Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential election keeps criticizing assistance to Ukraine. He also asked Congress to decrease military support. 

US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R)

In contrast, Republicans are united in their support for Israel, both among their ranks and among their voters, even though Donald Trump himself has varying positions. The former president and Benjamin Netanyahu were close political friends. That “friendship”, however, no longer exists. Trump remarked of the former Israeli prime minister, ‘I haven’t spoken to him,’ adding, ‘F**k him.’ In the aftermath of the October 7th, Trump made also a statement in which he referred to the Defense Minister of Israel in a derogatory manner. Additionally, he made comments praising the intelligence of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Trump’s comments aside, Republicans have supported Israel’s military efforts in the Israel-Hamas war.

Former US President and current candidate Donald Trump

The Israel-Hamas conflict is conversely causing problems for President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.

Calls for a Gaza cease-fire divide Democrats

According to a recent poll, 58% of Democrats believe Israel is using excessive force in their counterattack. And, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, younger Democrats are less supportive of Israel in this war than older Democrats. Sixty-nine percent of Democrats under the age of 35 are unhappy with Biden’s handling of the conflict. Among older Democrats, 77 percent of those over 65 support Biden’s solution. Democrats under 35 sympathize more with Palestinians (74%) than with Israelis (16%). Among Democrats aged 65 and older, 45 percent support Israelis, while 25 percent support Palestinians.

These unfavorable positions towards Israel have surfaced on many university campuses, including some of the most prestigious and historically liberal universities such as Harvard. This has sparked intense debate and controversy within the academic community and beyond.

Pro-Palestine demonstration at Harvard

There are divisions even within the Democratic political ranks. Most Democrats, including Biden’s administration, strongly support Israel and promise to stand by them. However, several progressive Democrats have called for an end to the violence. A proposal for a cease-fire has become an increasingly contentious issue among Democrats; some support it and others oppose it. President Biden is among those who are against the proposal.

All this has a direct electoral risk. From 2008 to 2020, only 10 states and two single-vote districts voted for both Democratic and Republican candidates. These are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nebraska-02 and Maine-02. Eighty percent of states voted consistently in the last four presidential elections, an unprecedented level of consistency in the twentieth century. This is why, in recent years, electoral college victories have been determined by a candidate’s small vote margin. In 2016, Donald Trump won the Electoral College by getting only 78,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Four years later, Biden won the Electoral College by an even smaller margin. He won by about 43,000 votes in Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia. Moreover, the Democrats kept control of the House by 31,000 votes in the same year. And Republicans won back the House by around 6,000 votes in 2022.

To get re-elected, Biden needs to engage the same coalition that helped him win in 2020. This renewed Obama coalition includes minorities, women, and youth. If Israel and Hamas fight for a long time, it may then hurt the president’s chances of getting re-elected. His campaign may not attract enough young and minority voters, above all in the swing states, which could lead to their disengagement. The worst-case scenario is if independent candidates are allowed on state ballots. This might make more people support them.

Moreover, there is an electoral risk that impacts some specific states. Americans who identify as Muslims tend to support the Democratic Party. Among these, there are many Arab Americans who live in battleground states such as Michigan, which Biden won back from Trump in 2020. Michigan Democrats have already informed the White House that their approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict could impact the 2024 elections. And more recently Muslim leaders from important swing states like Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania gathered in Dearborn, Michigan. Dearborn has the largest Arab American population in the US. The leaders stated that they would not back Biden if he continued to oppose a cease-fire in Gaza.

It is not an uncommon for Democrats to lose elections while winning the popular vote. It happened twice in the last two decades (in 2000 and 2016). It could easily happen again next year.

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Ukraine and Israel. American Parties Struggle to Find Internal Unity ultima modifica: 2023-12-03T19:00:00+01:00 da MARCO MICHIELI
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