The traditional saying as far as American Presidential politics is that on election day what matters is the voters’ perception on economy, inflation, jobs and price of gas at the pumps. Foreign policy is said to hardly matter except for a rare instance, perhaps in 1980 when President Jimmy Carter was defeated on account of the 1979 Iran Hostage crisis. Even a resounding win in the first Gulf War could not save President George Bush Sr who was shown the door in 1992. Remember the slogan “It’s the Economy… Stupid” coined by Bill Clinton’s strategists?

Joe Biden has a peculiar problem on his hands and remembering the right lessons of 1980 or 1992 is going to be of little help. Even before the current Israel-Hamas conflict, Biden’s real trouble was within the Democratic party. About 80 per cent of Americans believe that Biden is too old to run for re-election. Forget the fact that Donald Trump is only four years younger than Biden. Nearly 70 per cent of Democrats think that Biden should not be contesting next year. The African-American community which was at one time rock solid behind Democrats does not seem to be backing President Biden now; and the same story is with Hispanics. With support for Biden dropping among white men and women, especially younger voters, the problem for his advisors becomes more vexing. And then there is the widening schism between Biden and the younger Democrats or for that matter within the Independents.

Divided Democrats

The last thing that the Biden White House wanted was the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Israel’s predictable response and the daily killing of largely innocent Palestinians have divided the Democratic party. The pro-Israel elements among the Democrats are frustrated with the Biden White House’s inability to fund the Jewish state with its package tied up in knots at Congress.

The Left and the Progressives in the Democratic party are simply outraged that Biden speaks of “humanitarianism” but unable to muscle his way for an effective ceasefire excepting for a few “pauses” that are perceived as being inadequate. It is not just dissensions at the White House and State Department; voices of opposition are becoming louder in Congress, looking past the initial Resolution in the House of Representatives that passed in favour of Israel with overwhelming numbers.

Accusing Biden of supporting “genocide” of Palestinian people, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib warned: “Mr President, the American people are not with you on this one… We will remember in 2024.” The election advisors of Biden are already worried that Trump is ahead in five out of six battleground states; and one poll showing Republican hopeful Nikki Haley leading Biden in all six of the battle ground states. Tlaib is from Michigan that has a large Arab American electorate where Biden’s support is said to have dropped more than 40 per cent since the Middle East crisis began.

Biden has been a Washington politician for more than 50 years and is quite aware of the pitfalls of playing the balancing act. Biden won Michigan narrowly in 2020 and he needs that state now; but Jewish voters are also important in swing states like Pennsylvania. Republican candidates are looking at how best to raise the rhetoric on Islamophobia. Biden does not have the luxury of competing with Republicans now; he is more worried of more Democrats and big time donors deserting him.

The writer is a senior journalist who has reported from Washington DC on North America and United Nations

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