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Eric Suter-Bull holds a Vote Uncommitted sign
Eric Suter-Bull holds a Vote Uncommitted sign outside a voting location for the Michigan primary election in Dearborn, Michigan. Paul Sancya/AP

How Biden Might Lose the ‘Uncommitted’ Movement’s Binary Choice

As the election becomes a true competition between Biden and Trump, the “uncommitted” movement is showing real signs that voters may never come back to Biden — and could even choose Trump.

So far in the 2024 presidential election, the “uncommitted” movement has been about Joe Biden.

Democrats — many of them Arab Americans — have withheld their support for the president in the primary as a way to signal their dissatisfaction with Biden’s handling of the Israel-Gaza war. And many of these voters feel so wronged by Biden that they don’t see a path to voting for him in November.

But does that mean they’re going to support Donald Trump?

As the election has transitioned from the primary to the general, these voters are finally wrestling with a reality of the race: It’s a binary choice between Trump and Biden.

That doesn’t mean these voters actually have to choose. Many — perhaps most of them — will just sit at home come November. But even that choice will have effects on both candidates and, more specifically, hurt one candidate more than the other.

It’s conceivable, however, that some Arab American voters who went for Biden in 2020 actually fully make the jump and support Trump. The former president’s “shadow secretary of state,” Ric Grenell, hosted a dinner last week with about 40 Arab American leaders in Michigan, and he made the pitch — albeit somewhat unsuccessfully — that Trump was a better choice for their communities.

While that case may be difficult — Trump is famous for proposing a “Muslim ban,” and he’s consistently aligned himself with Israel’s far-right government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu — the former president has actually stepped up some of his criticism of Israel.

Again, the case that Trump would be better than Biden on Israel isn’t going to be terribly convincing for many Arab Americans. Two foreign policy experts recently argued in The New Republic that, while Biden has made mistakes with his Israel policies, Trump would be “many times worse, many times more accommodating to the extremist elements in Netanyahu’s government.”

But Arab American leaders told NOTUS that Biden ought to be paying attention to the possibility that some voters may actually make the leap completely.

Abed Hammoud, a longtime Democrat in Michigan and the founder of the Arab American Political Action Committee, suggested it was a very real possibility.

“When you’re orphaned, you’re looking for a home and you don’t find a place to take you, you may go to a place you never thought you’d go,” Hammoud said of Arab American voters potentially jumping to the GOP.

“What I’m hearing is people say, ‘I’ll go to Trump. I’m not liking what I hear, but at least there’s a chance I can change or do something because the other guy is sanctioning the killing of Palestinians,’” he added.

Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud speaking at a vote "uncommitted" gathering.
Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud speaks during an election night gatheringin Dearborn, Michigan. Carlos Osorio/AP

It wouldn’t take many voters going for Trump, or just sitting at home, to be decisive. Trump won Michigan in 2016 by 0.3%. And despite losing the swing state by a much larger margin in 2020, the former president currently has the advantage in Michigan, with Biden trailing him in the polls by 0.9%, according to 538.

Arab American leaders who support Trump believe their switch is adequate enough to ensure his victory despite the community’s overwhelming Democratic lean.

“Clearly, a 1% difference in Michigan will make or break the state,” Bishara Bahbah, national chairman of Arab Americans for Trump, told NOTUS. Bahbah voted for Biden in 2020 — a decision he now describes as “unfortunate” — and Bahbah believes plenty of Arab Americans are persuadable.

“The Biden administration has been supplying arms to Israel and Ukraine at the expense of people here in the United States who need that money,” he said. Summoning a Trump-like zero-sum argument, Bahbah suggested that money could have been used to address homelessness in the United States.

Most Arab American Democrats don’t seem to be going so far as to suggest a significant number of people will support Trump, but the lack of support for Biden could prove to be a much more serious problem.

As James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, put it, “A vote away from Biden is a vote, literally, for Trump.”

Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News, expressed a common frustration with Biden among his community — that the president is “speaking from both sides of his mouth.”

“We want to give this president a way out of this mess, and he’s just not taking that route. I mean, we’re extending the rope, and he is just rejecting it,” he said.

Biden Michigan director Ed Duggan told NOTUS that the campaign “is in contact with Arab American and Muslim groups and elected officials in the Dearborn/Detroit area.”

At a recent state convention to pick delegates for the Democratic National Convention, leaders of the Uncommitted National Movement, which yielded 100,000 protest votes against Biden during Michigan’s presidential primaries, selected their two delegates and left in high spirits.

“Some of the Biden delegates informed us that they 100% support our movement,” Layla Elabed, one of the “uncommitted” movement’s leaders, told NOTUS. “They support a cease-fire resolution. They agree that this genocide needs to stop now and that Biden does need to take more action to ensure that we can save as many lives as possible, even though they still are going to be supporting him at the DNC.”

But does that mean Elabed — whose sister is one of the most liberal members of Congress, Rep. Rashida Tlaib — would actually vote for Trump? Almost certainly not.

What it does mean, however, is that Biden has his work cut out for him to convince her and other participants in the “uncommitted” movement that Trump is so counter to their interests that they ought to hold their noses and vote for Biden. Right now, it doesn’t seem that many “uncommitted” Democrats are prepared to align themselves with the party of Biden, even after he held back some bombs to Israel after the country moved into the southern part of Gaza.

“This current administration and the current established leaders of the Democratic Party have actually moved away from the core tenets of the party,” Elabed said. “Why should we be the ones to leave the Democratic Party? We are seeing this current president align with the fascists [who] commit this genocide.”

Voters like Elabed may think it’s the Democratic Party that left them — not them who left the Democratic Party — but either way, it’s easy to imagine her not voting for Biden or Trump. And in an election that’s functionally between those two choices, not voting for either may be all one candidate needs to win.

Tinashe Chingarande is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.