Michigan's Abandon Biden movement is becoming more than just a slogan

Michigan's Abandon Biden movement is becoming more than just a slogan
On Tuesday, many Michigan Democrats will go to the polls to vote against the man they worked hard to bring to office. Will he listen?
5 min read
Washington, DC
26 February, 2024
Michigan voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose the presidential candidates from both parties. [Getty]

On Tuesday, many Michigan Democrats will go to the polls to vote against the man they worked hard to bring to office.

In 2020, when Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump, the first president to institute a Muslim ban and who defied decades of tradition by relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, many Arabs and Muslims across the US breathed a sigh of relief. 

Nearly four years on, as the next presidential election approaches, that sense of relief has, in many cases, turned into a sense of betrayal. The leader that they helped bring to the highest office in the land has spent the past five months supporting Israel's war on Gaza, causing more than 100,000 Palestinian casualties, including more than 30,000 deaths, with no end in sight. 

"I'm seeing youth who four years ago knocked on doors to support Biden, I'm seeing them feel betrayed, feeling like their votes were thrown away," Sufian Nabhan, executive director of the Islamic Center of Detroit, tells The New Arab.

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As the crisis in Gaza intensifies, the Abandon Biden movement grows

The Abandon Biden campaign, or ABC, gained traction as the primaries began to take shape and as it became clear that the two parties' candidates would likely be Trump and Biden. With most opponents of Israel's war on Gaza composed of the left wing of the Democratic Party, there is no indication that Trump would be moved by their demands. Biden, however, is the leader whose perceived betrayal would require accountability. 

That day of judgment is at the ballot box. In swing states across the US, most notably in Tuesday's presidential primary in the swing state of Michigan, home to the country's highest proportions of Arabs and Muslims, anti-Gaza war voters are mobilising to vote "uncommitted" as a protest vote against Biden. 

"The abandon Biden movement has become the poster child, the main title, the main banner for everyone who is not happy with Biden's approach," Khalid Turaauni, co-chair of the Abandon Biden campaign in Michigan, tells TNA

He, along with other like-minded voters, including from other swing states, announced their campaign on 2 December. In 2020, he had a Biden sign in front of his home because he was against Trump. He says he still worries about a Trump presidency, but his immediate concern is to do what he can to stop the war in Gaza.

"The movement is growing, and the sentiment is also growing in the Arab, Muslim and progressive communities in the US, especially in the swing states," he says. 

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What makes this different from staying home is that building a voting bloc against Biden on the ballot sends a clear message of constituents' disapproval. Moreover, enough "uncommitted" votes could give them a voice at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

"If we get to five per cent, that becomes a margin that establishes these votes matter," James Zogby, a veteran pollster and president of the Arab American Institute, tells TNA.

This strategy hasn't gone unnoticed by the White House, with Biden's campaign seeing multiple cancelled meetings with Arab and Muslim communities in Michigan, where he is trailing leading Republican candidate Donald Trump by five points in a hypothetical 2024 rematch, according to a January Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll.

Nor has it gone unscrutinised, with several high-profile Democrats voicing alarm over anything that could, as they believe, lead to another Trump presidency.

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Democrats openly concerned about Biden's performance

Among Democrats who have openly criticised those turning against Biden over his performance is Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman. Earlier this month, he told members of his own party that they "Might as Well Get Your MAGA Hat", he said on the MSNBC show Morning Joe.

In Michigan, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently acknowledged that she was concerned about Biden's performance in the race.

"I'm not sure what we're going to see on Tuesday, to tell you the truth," Whitmer told CNN. "I know that we've got this primary, and we will see differences of opinion. I'm just not sure what to expect."

She added, "I just want to make the case, though, that it's important not to lose sight of the fact that any vote that's not cast for Joe Biden supports a second Trump term," she said.

Meanwhile, there have been signs that Democratic candidates at the state and local levels are quietly distancing themselves from the president as they campaign. This is in addition to dozens who are publicly supporting the Abandon Biden movement, with possibly the most prominent being Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, herself a Palestinian American Muslim who represents a district with significant Arab and Muslim communities, who has encouraged Michiganders to vote uncommitted.

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A chance for Biden to prove himself?

There appear to be different schools of thought on the effectiveness of the Abandon Biden movement. Some seem to think the pressure could help him in the long run.

A recent report in The Nation argues that because it would be difficult for Biden to win without Michigan, he will need to change course to win over the state and thus win re-election.

The piece quoted a letter written by former Congressman Andy Levin to Our Revolution, saying, "We need to send President Biden a message: We are outraged by US complicity in the destruction of Gaza, the killing of thousands of civilians, including more than 10,000 children, and it must STOP!"

Expressing his support for Biden to change course and to prevent a second Trump presidency, he wrote, "Our Rev supporters can push Biden to change course on Gaza now and increase his chances of winning Michigan in November—because we MUST defeat the right-wing Trump agenda!"

For some, the Abandon Biden movement is almost an ironic misnomer. As they see it, it is Biden who has abandoned their communities, and it is up to him to make peace, not just domestically with constituents, but most importantly in Gaza

Biden will reportedly be meeting with House Speaker Mike Johnson this week to urge him to encourage Congress to vote on a supplemental spending bill that would send US$14 billion in military aid to Israel, a key policy that has infuriated many who oppose Israel's war in Gaza.

"Even if there is a ceasefire, there's been enough hurt created, enough of a sense of abandonment," says Zogby. "Talk about abandonment."

He says, "In all the years I've been doing this work, I don't think I've ever been as let down by a Democratic administration. I don't think the community has been as disrespected and as abandoned as we are at this point in time."