Democrats still have time to turn the tide against Trump’s building momentum, but to do so, they must stop ignoring reality.

By Sam Rosenthal

Up until Tuesday’s presidential primary in Michigan, President Joe Biden has met little electoral resistance as he rolls towards renomination as the Democrats’ candidate for president. This is partly to do with Biden-friendly changes the Democratic National Committee made in this year’s primary calendar, but also reflects an unwillingness by members of Biden’s own party to attempt to question his renomination, even amidst ominous signs for Biden’s reelection.

biden and uncommitted vote circled in Michigan

That may have changed Tuesday night after a grassroots movement encouraging voters to cast an “uncommitted” ballot in Michigan’s presidential primary startled Biden and his team. The campaign to vote uncommitted, dubbed “Listen to Michigan,” had asked voters to voice their displeasure with Biden’s support for the ongoing carnage in Gaza by voting uncommitted. After months of downplaying the extent of the discontent among rank-and-file Democratic voters over Biden’s obeisance towards Israel’s murderous campaign in Gaza, the president and his team will be hard pressed to ignore this protest vote. And, the stunning erosion of support among constituencies that ardently supported Biden in this critical swing state in 2020 should renew calls for the Democratic Party to take a hard look at the viability of Biden’s candidacy.

With 98.5% of the vote counted, the 100,960 votes cast “uncommitted” in Tuesday’s primary far outstrip the 10,704 votes by which Donald Trump won the state in 2016, and come within striking distance of the total margin that Biden ran up against Trump in 2020. That election saw record-high turnout across the U.S., as progressives, people of color, and young people turned out in droves to unseat Trump. Most prognosticators agree that we are unlikely to see that level of voting this year.

If even a significant percentage of the primary electorate that voted uncommitted in Michigan either does not vote, votes third party, or, God forbid, chooses Trump over Biden in November, then Biden will surely lose the state. If Biden loses Michigan, as Hillary Clinton lost it to Trump in 2016, his path to electoral victory becomes exceedingly difficult. In that scenario, he would probably have to take four of five remaining swing states: Arizona (where he currently trails in polling by about three points); Georgia (he is behind there by an average of seven points); Nevada (Biden trails by seven points there, too); Pennsylvania (where Trump clings to a one-point margin); and Wisconsin (where Biden is behind by two points). This is not to say that the task is impossible — many of these differentials are within the margin of polling error — but, taken together, the calculus for Biden looks incredibly grim.

Simply put, Biden needs to come up with votes, and quickly, at a time when he only seems to be capable of losing them. His administration’s unflinching support for Israel’s scorched earth campaign in Gaza has alienated core constituencies that Biden needed to win in 2020. Despite that, Biden and company appear paralyzed by an inability to abandon Democratic Party orthodoxy around its support for Israel and adopt a more even-handed policy. The administration is incapable of even allowing the UN to pass an overwhelmingly popular ceasefire resolution.

“We cannot win Michigan with status quo policy,” four-term Democrat congressman Ro Khanna said after meeting with students, Arab-Americans, and progressive voters in Michigan last week. “Every day that goes by where we’re seeing the bombing of women and children on social media or cable news is not a good day for our party,” he told the New York Times. A change in policy is needed within “a matter of weeks, not months.” he added.

Filmmaker and Michigan native Michael Moore agreed that Biden’s stance on the ongoing slaughter in Gaza could easily cost him the state, and in turn, the entire election. In a recent interview with CNN’s Abby Phillip, Moore said “I’ve been saying this month that he’s going to cost himself the election. …If Trump has any chance, it’s the decision that [Biden’s] made to embrace slaughter, carpet bombing, babies in incubators dead because they cut off the electricity, on and on and on.”

In vain, Team Biden seems focused on “moderate” voters to shore up his electoral deficiencies. We have seen this playbook before: in 2016, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton pursued presumably disaffected Republican voters, assuming that progressive activists inside the Democratic Party would eventually support her in the general election. This led the campaign to ignore Democratic core constituencies like union members, community-based organizations, and college campuses in swing states and instead campaign far afield in states that were not realistically within reach. The Clinton campaign also failed to create a coherent policy message, choosing instead to focus on Trump’s invective as the counterpoint to Clinton’s business-as-usual approach.

Biden clearly intends to use the Trump foil as his major argument for re-election, with a bit of center-leaning policy sprinkled in. Unfortunately for Biden, majorities of voters now trust Trump more on issues that appear near the top of the list of what voters say are most important to them in 2024: immigration and the economy. While Biden works to prove his bona fides as a border hawk, alienating immigration activists, voters already believe Trump is vastly more effective than Biden when it comes to issues of border security. With these efforts unlikely to produce enough votes to help Biden win the requisite swing states, the campaign is still displaying an alarming disregard towards the obvious signs of discontent within the Democratic Party.

After Tuesday’s wake-up call, it appears probable that the Democrats have just two remaining paths to victory in 2024: the Biden administration can make a 180-degree turn, join the rest of the UN in opposing Israel’s assault on Gaza, and try their damnedest to broker a lasting peace there. If the administration is incapable of doing that, the Democrats must look for a different candidate for the top of the ticket. Anything else would be political malpractice, and likely to hand Trump the election in November.

Sam Rosenthal is the political director at RootsAction and serves on the Democratic Socialists of America’s National Electoral Committee. He was formerly a staffer at Our Revolution and lives in Washington, D.C.