IN-DEPTH: Biden Risks Losing Key Voter Group Over Campus Protests

Some want President Biden to take a harder line to quell the protests, while others are urging him to defend students’ freedom to protest against Israel.

WASHINGTON—Some Democrats are concerned that the ongoing college protests may jeopardize President Joe Biden’s chances of winning a second term. And there is an ongoing division within the Democratic Party over how to handle these demonstrations.

Some want President Biden to take a harder line to quell the protests and combat anti-Semitism on college campuses, fearing that failure to do so could bolster former President Donald Trump’s electoral standing. Progressives, on the other hand, are urging the president to defend students’ freedom to protest against Israel and demand a ceasefire. Some even worry that the turmoil of the Vietnam War era may flare up again.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently likened the current protests to those in 1968. He warned that President Biden’s support for Israel could potentially sink his presidency, much like how the Vietnam War brought down Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.

“This may be Biden’s Vietnam,” Mr. Sanders told CNN on May 2.

In March 1968, former President Johnson decided not to seek re-election due to the growing public anger over his handling of the Vietnam War.

“Lyndon Johnson, in many respects, was a very, very good president,” Mr. Sanders said. “Domestically, he brought forth some major pieces of legislation. He chose not to run in ‘68 because of opposition to his views on Vietnam.”

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“I worry very much that President Biden is putting himself in a position where he has alienated, not just young people, but a lot of the Democratic base, in terms of his views on Israel and this war.”

The current crisis bears some similarities to the Vietnam War era, as both involve protests and division within the Democratic Party. However, many argue that there are significant differences between the two situations.

“In the 1960s, much of the opposition around the country was based upon the draft. It was based upon so many American soldiers going over to Vietnam. This is not the case in the Middle East at this point,” historian David Pietrusza told The Epoch Times.

“A further difference is that in 1968 you had viable opposition to Lyndon Johnson’s nomination, first in the person of Eugene McCarthy and then of Bobby Kennedy. This situation does not exist today.”

Could History Repeat Itself?

Like in 1968, the Democrats will convene in Chicago this August to select their presidential nominee. Some Democrats are anxious that the violent events of that year could be repeated in 2024.

1968 marked a turbulent year for the party, despite controlling the White House and Congress. Having championed the Great Society programs, Democrats found themselves in disarray before the election, with President Johnson unwelcome in Chicago.

Reflecting on the aftermath, President Johnson expressed profound disappointment that his party had abandoned him.

“I’ve never felt lower in my life,” President Johnson said. “How do you think it feels to be completely rejected by the party you’ve spent your life with, knowing that your name cannot be mentioned without choruses of boos and obscenities?”

During that year’s Democratic Convention in late August, there were widespread protests against the Vietnam War and the political establishment. Amid riots and violence on Chicago’s streets, Vice President Hubert Humphrey received his presidential nomination, highlighting deep divisions within the party.

“It’s certainly possible, and perhaps even likely, that we will see significant demonstrations at this year’s Democratic National Convention,” Mr. Pietrusza said. “I suspect the police reaction this year will not be as controversial as that of the Chicago police in 1968, however.”

In the 1968 election, Mr. Humphrey lost the White House race to Republican nominee Richard Nixon. Some attributed this defeat to voters’ frustration with Democrats for their perceived inaction in restoring law and order.

Given these historical parallels, many believe President Biden is currently attempting to thread a needle on current protests, aiming to retain the right to free expression while reminding students that America is a nation governed by laws.

President Biden delivered a rare speech on May 2, condemning the violence caused by pro-Palestinian protests across American college campuses.

“Violent protest is not protected,” he said. “Destroying property is not a peaceful protest. It’s against the law.”

He also criticized Republicans for seeking to capitalize on the protests.

“In moments like this, there are always those who rush in to score political points. But this isn’t a moment for politics. It’s a moment for clarity,” he said.

A Political Gift to Trump?

Republicans see the protests gripping U.S. college campuses as a winning election issue for them. They are broadly in agreement on the war and exhibit strong support for Israel. They have urged President Biden to take a tougher stance against the rising unrest on campuses.

“We need the president of the United States to speak to the issue and say this is wrong. What’s happening on college campuses right now is wrong,” Speaker Mike Johnson said on April 30 after pro-Palestinian demonstrators took over an academic building at Columbia University. “It is un-American. It is not who we are. The president seems unable or unwilling to do that.”

The incident at Columbia happened after the school began to suspend students who refused to vacate the protest encampment. It wasn’t just Republicans who were furious with the pro-Palestinian protesters, though.

Larry Summers, a Democrat and former treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, expressed his frustration on social media platform X, criticizing the leadership of universities.

“As a strong supporter of President Biden and the Democrats, I am very aware that Ronald Reagan launched his political career running against those who allowed chaos at Berkeley,” he wrote on April 29.

“Academic leaders at many of our leading universities are giving a political gift to Donald Trump and his acolytes.”

Pro-Palestinian protests have been sweeping American college campuses since mid-April, with police arresting over 2,000 protestors so far. In some cases, police forces used rubber bullets, chemical irritants, and pepper balls to remove protesters.

“I think that it’s important for us to protect freedom of speech and that we’re setting a dangerous precedent when we criminalize young people for standing up for peace,” Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) told The Epoch Times.

“And we have done this before. And we have seen that they were on the right side,” the progressive congresswoman said.

When asked about the turmoil at Columbia University, “I think it’s complicated,” she responded.

“You hear young people who’re saying enough is enough.”

While protesters’ demands have varied at each university, the majority of demonstrators have called for universities to cut ties with businesses that support Israel. They have accused corporations of profiting from Israel’s genocide.

Israel has repeatedly rejected accusations of genocide in Gaza.

David Carlucci, a Democratic strategist and former New York State Sen., disagrees with those who try to draw parallels with 1968 events.

“Comparing these protests to the Vietnam anti-war protests is like comparing apples to oranges,” he told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Carlucci also criticized Republicans for attempting to make the protests appear as if the country is in chaos.

“The truth is, President Biden’s response to these protests has been nothing but strict. Until Republicans can completely link these protests to Biden, which is false, I do not see these protests as a political liability for him,” he said.

“He may lose support from far-left young voters due to his support for Israel, but these voters will not go to Donald Trump,” he added. “It is important to remember that there will be 41 million Gen Z eligible voters for the 2024 election and those protesting are a tiny fraction of that number.”

Recent polls indicate that young voters, a key pillar of the Democratic Party’s base that played a crucial role in his 2020 race, are drifting away from President Biden.

According to a recent CNN poll conducted by SSRS, he is 11 percentage points behind former President Trump among young voters aged 18 to 34 in a head-to-head match.

Biden’s Dilemma

Willa Folmar, 31, recently went to watch the New York University protest to support the students. She is concerned that the campus protests are hurting President Biden’s chances of regaining the support of younger Americans.

“The Democratic Party really has to do something to show they are listening to the youth because that’s the future of the party and the future of the country,” Brooklyn resident Ms. Folmar told The Epoch Times.

However, only 2 percent of respondents to a poll by the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School in April ranked “Israel/Palestine” as the top issue, far behind other topics like the economy (11 percent), inflation (8 percent), abortion (6 percent), and the environment (5 percent).

A recent YouGov poll also found that 53 percent of adults thought college administrators’ decision to suspend and deport some pro-Palestinian protesters was “about right” or “not harsh enough.” For individuals above the age of 65, that number rises to 68 percent.

While President Biden aims to appeal to young voters, he is cautious about alienating others, especially those who strongly support law and order.

Manhattan resident Lance Bennet, 72, recognizes this and explains the dilemma the president is currently facing.

“I’m a Democrat, and if Biden loses this [youth] vote, he’s in trouble,” he told The Epoch Times.

“I don’t know, but it’s almost an impossible situation. Whichever side Biden takes, he’s going to get protests from the other side.”

Juliette Fairley and John Haughey contributed to this report.

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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