Biden and Trump Cruise Despite Discontent

Reading the tea leaves in Michigan.

A quick scan of the headlines at memeorandum

demonstrates yet more attempt to create a sense of drama where there really isn’t any.

It’s true that he protest organized by Michigan’s large Arab population that I highlighted yesterday was somewhat successful. But not that successful.

POLITICO: “Biden won the Michigan primary decisively — but not by enough to calm Democratic angst.”

President Joe Biden scored a decisive win in the Michigan primary on Tuesday evening, clearing an organized protest vote against his handling of the Israel-Hamas war though not necessarily by enough to calm Democratic jitters.

Tens of thousands of Michiganders on Tuesday cast their ballots for “uncommitted,” putting them on track to garner more than 10 percent of the vote statewide. That figure seemed likely to exceed past levels of “uncommitted” votes in Michigan Democratic primaries, though fall short of sparking a political earthquake.

Democrats were divided over how to treat the outcome, noting that Biden continued to dominate the primary in ways similar to, or even exceeding, past incumbents but also wary that significant pockets of discontent in the party could prove fatal in the general election.

“I don’t see a pathway for them to win Michigan with that many people not voting for them,” said Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of the Muslim advocacy organization Emgage. “I just don’t.”

In his statement late Tuesday evening, Biden thanked “every Michigander who made their voice heard today,” noting that “exercising the right to vote and participating in our democracy is what makes America great.”

He discussed abortion, union jobs, prescription drugs, and the need to protect fertility treatments. There was no mention of Gaza or Israel or the cease-fire demands that sparked the “uncommitted” protest vote campaign.

But, as of this writing, POLITICO shows 98.5% of the vote in with Biden winning in a landslide:

While one imagines that there are indeed some significant portion of those who would show up to cast a protest vote in a party primary who will sit out the general election, I’m skeptical that it’s a huge number. Biden won the state by a little more than 150,000 votes last go-round. So, even if all 101,000 of these folks stayed home—which they won’t—it wouldn’t be enough to change the outcome.

In fairness, the POLITICO report continues,

On the Republican side, a similar debate about party unity has taken place. Donald Trump also won the Michigan primary convincingly on Tuesday. But the former president continues to face a faction of Republicans who refuse to back his candidacy despite his chokehold on the nomination.

The fissures in both parties have sparked concerns over how each candidate will fare in this critical swing state in November.

For Trump, the threats have been both political and legal in nature. His unbroken swing of early state victories has given him a commanding position in Republican politics. But he remains embroiled in court cases stemming from his business practices and his time in office. And he continues to slash at primary rivals — past and present — even after they have ceased to threaten him politically.

Still, his sole remaining opponent got roughly twice what “Uncommitted” did in the other primary:

This is not exactly a live contest.

The AP gives us similar treatment in “Michigan takeaways: Presidential primaries show warning signs for Trump and Biden.” And, this much is surely true:

Joe Biden and Donald Trump easily won their party’s primaries in Michigan, but Tuesday’s results showed that both candidates have cause for concern in their bid to win the swing state in November.

An “uncommitted” vote in Michigan’s Democratic primary was the first indication of how backlash over President Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza might impact his reelection campaign. Trump won his primary by a large margin, but support for rival Nikki Haley once again showed that some Republican voters may have misgivings about giving the former president another four years in the general election.

Indeed, I strongly suspect that the 81% and 68% figures by which Biden and Trump, respectively, won their primaries greatly overstates the enthusiasm their co-partisans have for seeing them in office another four years. But, presuming they’re both alive, free, and on the ballot in November, committed partisans will nonetheless overwhelmingly vote for their party’s nominee.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Scott says:

    I early voted yesterday here in Texas. The primaries are 5 Mar. Texas has open primaries so anyone can pick a party to vote. For a variety of reasons, primarily local candidates and issues, it made more sense to choose sides in the Republican civil war here and vote Republican. I suspect that quite a few voters did the same. Not sure how this provides any valuable insight into the actually election come November. Oddly, voting Republican makes me by law a registered Republican for a year. My presidential vote went to Haley.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    For my whole life the news cycle has been full of “Why this incumbent presidential candidate is especially weak and oh my god if only we had someone else!” In fact, I think it’s safe to say that about any nominee, incumbent or not. Sometimes it’s true, sometimes it’s handwringing, and sometimes it’s clickbait.

    I remember the doomsayers for both Biden and Trump in 2020, for Clinton and Trump in 2016, For Obama and Romney in 2012, for Obama in 2008 (maybe McCain too, but I don’t remember it), for Kerry and Bush in 2004 (remember that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were turning out to be disasters), and well, you get the point. What the news media says about the strength of a candidate means absolutely nothing, because those stories stimulate readership to engage and that’s their goal.

    What does matter? How the candidate does in the primaries, both percentagewise and turnout-wise as compared to how the opposition candidate is doing. And whether the candidate and their stand-ins are able to project strength and determination. Everything else is just trivia.

  3. Charley in Cleveland says:

    No matter how irritated or disappointed Michigan’s Arab-American communities might be with Biden’s stance on Israel v Hamas, it’s hard to imagine those voters will opt to enable Stephen Miller’s gestapo deportation plan come November by staying home. And so the Uncommitted protest is more flash than substance, and it gave the vacuous political media a new shiny object.

  4. Kylopod says:

    @Charley in Cleveland: It’s too bad there don’t seem to be any exit polls for last night’s race. I would have liked to see a breakdown of what Uncommitted voters intend to do in November, and also their party affiliation.

  5. MarkedMan says:

    @Charley in Cleveland:

    it’s hard to imagine those voters will opt to enable Stephen Miller’s gestapo deportation plan come November by staying home

    It depends on how organized they are. I listened to one “Uncommitted” voter who, when asked what it would take for him to vote for Biden, declared that it was simple – Biden just had to declare a ceasefire. Of course it’s just an anecdote, but the level of knowledge about how things work is very low in most of the electorate. I don’t expect more than 15-25% of the people to even attempt to weigh plusses versus minuses. They are going to go with their gut, and their gut is going to be informed by what they hear. Democrats trading access to airtime in return for talking up Biden’s “failure” with Arab American voters are hurting the cause, and doing so for much less than 30 pieces of silver. If Biden was siding more openly with the Palestinians you can bet 100% that those same Dems would be on the airwaves talking about his “failure” with Jewish American voters.

  6. Modulo Myself says:

    100K people showing up to an uncontested primary (sorry Dean whatever your name is) to write in uncommitted is a problem. They could have simply not shown up. These are committed voters. As I understand it, they really shouldn’t be factored to the small margins that Biden needed to win in Michigan in 2020. They are the base and not voters who need to be reached by the campaign.

    That says to me that there’s a much bigger number of possible voters who have the same feelings and might not show up because of Gaza. Biden’s problem is that Israel has no sane objectives that can’t be reached by a permanent ceasefire with Hamas. And he can’t suggest that Israel is the impediment to a ceasefire and not Hamas because the people who don’t want a ceasefire and support Israel would be very upset, even though they would be as upset with a permanent ceasefire. And right now, I assume that maybe 75% of Democrats in power are as racist towards Arab-Americans as that Obama State Department guy who spent his days harassing a halal vendor. There’s no evidence to the contrary to be honest. Just flat-out racist and contemptuous of any claim made by Palestinians. So most of Biden’s team is exactly as crazy as any moron on the internet, and the impediment is coming from inside the house.

  7. Scott F. says:

    @MarkedMan: I listened to an interview yesterday on NPR with a leader from the Uncommitted effort. He was crystal clear about the different impacts to his interests between Biden and Trump (“I don’t want to live in a country where Trump wins the presidency.”) I’m convinced that most of those voting the “Uncommitted” line were using an inconsequential primary to signal. Most of them will still vote in November, and those voters will pull the lever for Biden. None of them will ever vote for Trump.

  8. DK says:


    Biden just had to declare a ceasefire

    Lol that’s how to end the war? So simple. Why didn’t anybody think of this before, someone should put that voter in charge.

    Biden should also declare a ceasefire in Ukraine and in Myanmar. Once he makes his declaration, war ends, problem solved. Or something.

    Presidential declarations: they’re magic!

    @Scott F.:

    None of them will ever vote for Trump.

    None is too strong. Khalid Turaani, a co-chair of Abandon Biden, was a Bush Republican.

  9. MarkedMan says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    And he can’t suggest that Israel is the impediment to a ceasefire

    He is (almost) doing exactly that. He and his proxies have been increasingly talking about the extreme right wing elements in the Israeli government as being impediments to peace. He is trying to drive a wedge between the religious and ethnic fanatics and some supposed sane part of the government. But if that doesn’t happen he is preparing the ground for more direct disapproval and distancing from Israel. It’s a helluva needle to thread but I think he can do it.

    I know we are obligated to evaluate everything as a horserace, but I think Biden, while being aware of the effects of policies on the voters, is trying his best to ignore that and do the right thing in this conflict. And I think he is also looking out long term at the US interests. If Israeli remains an apartheid state we will not be allied with them in 10-15 years. I think Biden is fighting against that outcome but also preparing for it if it comes about.

  10. MarkedMan says:


    Presidential declarations: they’re magic!

    Right?! I mean, we gotta start making a list!

  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Scott F.:

    a leader from the Uncommitted effort. He was crystal clear about the different impacts to his interests between Biden and Trump

    I hope you are right, and lean that way myself, but also accept that a lot depends on how much influence leaders like him have on the general population, who are not crystal clear at all about anything political.

  12. Kathy says:


    It’s not that simple.

    First Biden must approach the Beige Lantern and declaim:

    In brightest day
    In darkest night

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    Biden scraped by with a mere 81%, whereas Trump totally dominated with 68%. Ooookay.

    The Official Punditocracy took a few days to notice what a number of us noticed right away, that Trump was underperforming polls and losing a quarter to a third of GOP voters.

    In a couple days they’ll decide the protest vote was no big deal, which will be true.

  14. Jen says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    100K people showing up to an uncontested primary (sorry Dean whatever your name is) to write in uncommitted is a problem. They could have simply not shown up.

    Generally speaking, “not showing up” isn’t how frequent voters behave. For a segment of the partisan population (both Democratic and Republican), showing up to vote comes close to being a moral obligation. If there’s an election, they vote.

    Here in New Hampshire the issues were reversed: Biden wasn’t on the ballot, and yet he won the Democratic NH primary on a write-in effort, despite the fact that there really wasn’t any reason to vote for him–because NH went ahead with the Democratic primary against DNC demands, New Hampshire’s electors won’t count in the convention.

    There will always be a cohort of deeply committed party loyalists who are unhappy with the nominee, my guess is that is all that is being reflected here.

  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    Once again, Trump underperformed relative to polls. The last five polls of the Michigan primary had the margin at 50, 43, 50, 60 and 52. Average margin predicted? 52 points. Actual margin? 41.6.

    ETA: Same thing on the Blue Team. There was only one recent poll, it had Biden by 70. Actual number? 78.

  16. just nutha says:

    @DK: Wait… I thought only Hamas can declare a ceasefire.

  17. Pylon says:

    Why stop at declaring a ceasefire? Why doesn’t he declare two states? Also an end to world hunger and poverty, jobs for everyone who wants them and no crime.

  18. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Same thing on the Blue Team. There was only one recent poll, it had Biden by 70. Actual number? 78.

    Biden’s current percentage (it still isn’t fully counted) is 81.1%.

  19. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds: While there has been some discussion in the press about Trump underperforming the polls, I’ve seen comparatively little attention paid to Biden overperforming. In South Carolina, the Emerson poll underestimated Biden by over 30 points.

  20. EddieInCA says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Data points:

    Dems have won almost every open seat / special election elections since 2018.

    Biden has over-performed the polling in every primary state so far, including the one in which he wasn’t even on the ballot (New Hampshire).

    Trump has under-performed the polling in every primary state so far, including those since it became a two person race.

    The GOP state parties of Arizona, Wisconsin, and Michigan are dumpster fires right now, badly trailing their Dem counterparts in fundraising, cash on hand, and organizational infrastructure. Michigan’s GOP is almost $1M in debt, and they’re battling over who is actually in charge.

    Biden pulls to within 1 point of Trump. A week ago, it was a four point lead for Trump.

    Biden ties Trump Two weeks ago, it was a five point Trump lead.

    Democrats hold vast fundraising advantage as Republicans face cash problems, disarray in crucial swing states

    The old man is going to be fine.

  21. wr says:

    @Pylon: “Also an end to world hunger and poverty, jobs for everyone who wants them and no crime.”

    I just wish he’d declare me a 5 Guys. I’m hungry.

  22. Kingdaddy says:

    One of the regular authors at Lawyers, Guns, and Money has a pet theory about how little many voters understand about government and politics that’s worth considering:

    You’ll see him cite it in recent posts like this one:

  23. EddieInCA says:

    For the doom and gloom crowd out there:

    Biden’s election odds are finally improving

    How long does it take voters to shake off inflation? We may finally be getting an answer.

    Inflation has dropped from a peak of 9% in June 2022 to just 3.1% now, and most economists think it will continue to trend lower. But that improvement hasn’t boosted President Biden’s approval ratings, which tanked as inflation worsened and have stayed stubbornly stuck in the danger zone.

    The fever may now be breaking. At least four measures of Biden’s reelection odds have ticked upward recently, suggesting that voters are feeling better about the economy. Moody’s Analytics, for instance, says the latest change to its presidential election model slightly favors Biden. “A more favorable economic outlook has raised the share of the popular vote that Biden is projected to win,” the research firm said in a Feb. 23 update.

    he main change in Moody’s economic outlook is a drop in its forecast for mortgage rates, likely to occur as a result of Federal Reserve interest rate cuts later this year. The firm also thinks income growth, adjusted for inflation, will be rising solidly by Election Day, normally bullish for an incumbent running for reelection.

    That raises the Moody’s forecast for Biden’s vote in five key swing states by 0.18 percentage points. That’s small, but the margin of victory in each of those states—Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Nevada—could be fraction of a point. In the Moody’s model, Georgia has moved from tossup to leaning Biden’s way. The current forecast is for a Biden electoral count victory of 308-230.

    Democrats have been terrified that Biden’s age and frequent verbal stumbles will blot out the news of improving inflation, but there are other signs voters are warming to Biden. In Harvard/Harris polling, Biden’s approval rating rose from 42% in January to 45% in February. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Biden beating former President Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee, by 49% to 45%. And a recent Axios poll found Biden beating Trump among younger voters by 52% to 48%, an improvement on similar polls from late last year.

  24. Kingdaddy says:

    Journalists are very prone to groupthink, both within their own news organizations, and across them. It’s startling how little effort there is to defeat the dominant narrative, which is often wrong, and is the part of the “Media is biased!” complaint that actually makes sense. (The part that doesn’t is that it’s always an explicit liberal slant.)

    Other organizations put in place corrective mechanisms that combat this type of confirmation bias (my current narrative is correct, and I’ll do everything I can to preserve it, such as cherry-picking data that shows that there were WMDs in Iraq, Biden just squeaked by in Michigan, etc. etc.). For example, the military often wargames different scenarios to test whether its doctrines, theater-level strategies, or preparations for particular contingencies make sense. (Here’s a good example of how destructive it can be when the participants try to rig the game to get results that reinforce preferred approaches.)

    The press has made some gestures in that direction, though clearly not nearly enough, if these preferred and clearly false narratives are making it into headlines. (Hint: Having a token right-winger publish the occasional op-ed is not enough.) I don’t know how to make a red team-type challenge to the dominant narrative in the newsroom would work, but news outlets need something as aggressive as that.

  25. Andy says:

    Lots of tea-leaf reading here, but I don’t think much can be read into the numbers on low-turnout primaries that are de facto coronations at this point.


    For my whole life the news cycle has been full of “Why this incumbent presidential candidate is especially weak and oh my god if only we had someone else!” In fact, I think it’s safe to say that about any nominee, incumbent or not. Sometimes it’s true, sometimes it’s handwringing, and sometimes it’s clickbait.

    In this case it’s true. Both candidates have 100% name recognition, and nearly 60% unfavorability rating, and nearly 40% favorability. These are two very unpopular candidates by all the metrics we have available.

    Combined with other polling that shows 60-70% of Americans wishing there were other candidates, the discontent this time around is very real.

  26. MarkedMan says:

    @Kingdaddy: I think he’s dead on. It’s why I think it is a wild misunderstanding of humanity to say things like, “Well, if you are a Trump supporter, you must be evil. Just look at all these bad things he’s done.” It presumes a level of awareness that just isn’t there.

    [Edit to get rid of a strained analogy]

  27. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: I don’t think the metrics are useful any more. How many Republicans despise the Dem candidate? Nearly 100%. And vice versa. Every candidate from either party has a 40% disapproval rating baked in and can only rise moderately from there. That didn’t used to be the case and so comparing today’s results to those of a quarter a century a more ago doesn’t really demonstrate that much.

  28. DK says:

    @MarkedMan: I mean, I will cop to believing Trump supporters are also lazy, delusional, ignorant, and selfish, as well as evil. Haha.

  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    I just wish he’d declare me a 5 Guys.

    I can handle that–you’re a 5 Guys!

  30. DK says:

    Reality is setting in. Chuck Todd today, begrudgingly:

    “[Trump’s] party is not as united as the Democrats. You know, we sit here and handwring a lot about Biden’s issues. But the fact of the matter is, he ened up winning a write-in New Hampshire when he was up against a candidate with millions of dollars and in an electorate that didn’t like him, didn’t like that he moved the primary…and you had this Michigan situation.

    “Meanwhile, Trump doesn’t have any of these issues and he’s winning by less. He’s still got a significant chunk of Republican voters who are comfortable voting against him even though he’s gonna be the nominee. They already know he’s gonna be the nominee.

    “So, I certainly think when you look at the two results, Trump has a lot more issues getting his party united than Biden does.”

    Chuck Todd will be struggling with irritable bowel system this evening, having had to report fairly instead of robotically parroting the media’s preferred Democrats in Disarray But His Age narrative.

  31. Mister Bluster says:

    @Modulo Myself:..100K people showing up to an uncontested primary (sorry Dean whatever your name is) to write in uncommitted is a problem.

    This sample ballot shows uncommitted as a candidate, not a write-in. Do you think that would make a difference in the problem that you see?

  32. DrDaveT says:


    “Well, if you are a Trump supporter, you must be evil. Just look at all these bad things he’s done.” It presumes a level of awareness that just isn’t there.

    About most politicians, I’d agree with you. But with Trump, every word that comes out of his mouth is hateful. I can understand “I don’t know anything about what Trump has done”; I don’t think you can defend “I like what I hear when Trump speaks” — and everyone has heard him speak. He was President for four years, fer chrissakes.

  33. Jax says:

    @DrDaveT: And the press has covered every word ever since. I remember being really depressed even after Biden won, because I realized that THIS MOTHERFUCKER IS NEVER GOING TO SHUT UP UNTIL HE’S DEAD.

    He is literally a poison to the lifeblood of this country, and a certain faction is willing to shoot that shit straight into their veins.

  34. CSK says:

    An Illinois judge just said that the 14th Amendment bars Trump from the ballot.

  35. Alex K says:

    It might be worth revisiting the last time a Democratic president ran for re-election.

    In the 2012 Michigan Democratic primary, Obama got 89% of the vote running unopposed. “Uncommitted” got 11%.

    But here’s the real kicker – only about 180,000 people voted in that election. 758,000 voted in 2024. That’s an over 320% increase.

    But wait there’s more! Over 996,000 voted in the Republican primary in 2012 vs 1.1 million in 2024 – just about a 10% increase.

    I personally find these numbers interesting, given that we have a similar situation of a basically incumbent unopposed Democratic primary vs a competitive Republican one, and yet turnout for the Democratic primary was a LOT bigger even though there was nothing else on the ballot.