Biden’s prospect of re-election was already poor. His stance on Gaza has destroyed it

The Democratic party must decide if its blind loyalty warrants throwing the election to Trump, or whether it can find the courage to force Biden out

If you want an image of the lowest point in Joe Biden’s 53-year political career look at a photo that came out of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza. A line of babies, born premature, impossibly tiny, surrounded by heat reflective material, struggle to survive in a hospital without power, without heat and light, without working incubators, without safety.

Insisting that a crucial Hamas base lay just under the facility, the Israeli Defence Forces besieged the complex, starved it of fuel, bombarded it with munitions, shot several people through the windows and finally stormed it. For evidence of a vital centre of Hamas’s command structure it presented a few rusty rifles, a handful of grenades and little else. Even news outlets sympathetic to the Israeli side immediately expressed scepticism.

In this the Israeli government has been backed to the hilt by the Biden administration, which has repeatedly given political cover to the dubious claims of Israeli intelligence at enormous cost to its own credibility and electoral prospects.

From the outset of this war Biden has given full-throated support to the military campaign of Netanyahu’s government, even going so far as to physically embrace the man on a visit to the country. He has cast doubt on Israeli culpability for deaths, questioned the numbers of Palestinians killed and cut dead any discussion of a ceasefire as other leaders moved towards that position.


Last Friday the US vetoed an attempt by United Nations secretary general António Guterres, which was co-sponsored by 97 countries including Ireland, to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. The issue went to the General Assembly on Tuesday, where an overwhelming majority of 153 votes were cast in favour of a ceasefire. The US does not have a veto in the assembly but it voted against the draft resolution, along with Israel and eight other countries.

Looking increasingly isolated on the issue, Biden offered a rare public criticism of Israel earlier the same day, saying it was starting to lose support from the international community with its “indiscriminate” bombing of Gaza.

Even before the events of October 7th the prospects for Biden’s re-election were poor. Before the relentless and indiscriminate bombing campaign that has seen more children killed in a month in Gaza than in all wars last year. Before the footage of a mass exodus from northern Gaza, an exodus many fear will be permanent.

Before October 7th Biden was still 80 years old. His remote public persona and frequent communication issues have led over half of voters to say in polls that he lacks “the competence to carry out the job of president”. Biden is now polling behind in many states crucial to his re-election. His promise to be a bridge to the next generation of Democratic politicians apparently forgotten, he and his team are now locked into what appears to be a doomed attempt at winning a second term in the face of mounting pressure both within and without the party to step aside.

Biden’s hardline stance on the bombing of Gaza has shocked many within his party, from ordinary liberals and progressives, to the already unhappy left, to Arab American voters, a demographic who voted consistently Democratic until now.

It’s hard to overstate just how out of touch with public opinion the administration’s stance is. In a recent poll almost 70 per cent of voters support an immediate ceasefire, including 75 per cent of Democrats and even a majority of Republicans. Biden’s support among Arab Americans, previously healthy, has absolutely cratered since the war began. These voters disproportionately live in crucial swing states like Michigan, and could very conceivably cost Biden re-election by themselves.

Biden is also facing an unprecedented level of opposition among younger and left-wing voters, particularly Jewish leftists, many of whom have been leading massive direct actions. It’s not uncommon for Biden to be referred to as “Genocide Joe”, as furious protests greet his every public appearance.

The most compelling historical precedent is the decline in fortunes of Lyndon Johnson between the 1964 and 1968 elections. Winning a full term by a landslide in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson passed landmark legislation but was fatally wounded by his commitment to waging war on Vietnam and a general sense that his administration had lost control. By the time of the 1968 primaries he had lost control of his party too. Challengers for the nomination emerged from within his own party and he eventually withdrew from the race.

It’s not as if the party in 2023 lacks alternatives to Biden. In Gretchen Whitmer and Andy Beshear it has popular, young, charismatic governors of purple or even red states who have proven ability to win tight races. They are no socialist firebrands, coming from the same wing of the party as Biden himself. But they are untarnished by association with the now more than 18,000 killings in Gaza. That taint of complicity was enough to sink vice-president Hubert Humphrey’s campaign in 1968, which should give pause to anyone rushing to inaugurate Kamala Harris.

Despite his warning this week that Israel was beginning to lose support around the world and his characterisation of the Israeli government as “the most conservative” in the country’s history, Biden gives the appearance of one who has embraced the Israeli government much more closely than Barack Obama, who displayed a notable personal distaste for Netanyahu, even as he acquiesced to Israeli prerogatives. Driven by senior members of his team like controversial White House co-ordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk, the stated policy has been to remain steadfast in public while applying private pressure. It has been an abject failure as the Israeli government, after a brief ceasefire, has gone back to indiscriminate bombing, while testing the waters for massive population expulsions under the guise of humanitarianism.

Biden’s reputation with voters crucial to his re-election is in tatters. The Democratic party must decide if its blind loyalty warrants throwing the election to Trump or whether it can find the courage to force Biden out.

Jack Sheehan is a writer based in New York