Manchester, New Hampshire
The Republican and Democratic primaries in New Hampshire are two sides of the same coin. New polls released this morning show the 45th and 46th president leading their respective fields comfortably. The latest Boston Globe/Suffolk survey has Donald Trump on 55 percent, with Nikki Haley on 36 percent and Ron DeSantis on 6 percent. The new CNN/UNH poll is a similar story: Trump on 50 percent, Haley on 39 percent, DeSantis on 6 percent. CNN/UNH also polled likely Democratic primary voters: Joe Biden, who is not on the ballot due to DNC demands that the more diverse state of South Carolina vote first, still has 63 percent as a write-in candidate; Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips is a distant second on 10 percent, with progressive spiritual leader and author Marianne Williamson on 9 percent.
Republican turnout in their first contest in Iowa, at 110,000, was down significantly on 2016, when a record 187,000 voted. A number of factors contributed: poor weather on the day, lack of enthusiasm for the candidates, a sense of a foregone conclusion due to Trump’s strong poll showing. The Democrats could see a similar outcome in the Granite State, with Biden off the ballot and registered Independents likelier to vote in the slightly more competitive Republican primary (they can vote in either primary and make up 40 percent of the electorate here).
The stench of redundancy emanating from the Democratic contest has led some progressives to stage a protest: rather than voting for Phillips or Williamson, or writing in Biden, a group is urging New Hampshire Democrats to write in “ceasefire” to send a message to the president about his backing of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s retaliatory bombing in Gaza. Williamson was not impressed by the “ceasefire” write-in effort that threatens to draw votes from her.
“I’m very sad about that campaign,” she told The Spectator at a town hall at Manchester Community College Saturday. “If you really want to help the citizens of Gaza, then you really want to get a message to to President Biden. President Biden doesn’t really care about a write-in campaign. The president would care if a candidate such as myself, who has called for a ceasefire from the very beginning, got a lot of votes.
“I find it kind of self-indulgent, performative. A loud message of ceasefire, I’m all for — my campaign is a loud message of ceasefire. But voting for a candidate who stands for that is the way to get that across, I believe.”
Motivated progressive activists have played a valuable role in a number of recent Democratic campaigns: Bernie Sanders’s presidential efforts in 2016 and 2020, for instance. The younger and more left-wing you are, the likelier you are to be sympathetic with Palestinians over Israelis. They see the Biden administration as a one-eyed backer of Israel and Netanyahu, a neoliberal regime that embodies the military-industrial complex. Those circumstances create an intriguing environment for Biden challengers in New Hampshire. Williamson and Phillips are both Jewish and both pro-ceasefire — though Phillips’s call for a ceasefire is conditioned on Hamas’s release of its hostages.
“We need a ceasefire, we need it now,” Williamson said in Manchester. “As horrifying as October 7 was — and there is no minimizing it, there is no justifying it. There is no way to in any way see that as anything other than a horrifying evil — and, and, we all know it didn’t happen in a vacuum. We know this. We all have to be adult thinkers here. Those settlements are illegal. And the occupation of the West Bank is illegal. And the siege and the blockade are wrong.”
An hour later, in a senior center in Nashua, Congressman Dean Phillips took a question from a voter about Gaza. It led to the most heated moment of his town hall.
“I have sat at the desk of Benjamin Netanyahu twice this year in Jerusalem,” Phillips said. “I told him to his face what I thought, well before October 7, which is, by the way, I think one of the most atrocious acts of insanity and horror propagated by human beings on others I’ve ever seen in my life. I hope you never see the videos of what they propagated that day in Israel-“
That was enough to set off one attendee: “We have seen the videos—“ he loudly interrupted.
“Let me answer the gentleman’s question. Let me answer the question, sir,” Phillips continued. “Don’t worry. Let me just answer his question. Then you might be surprised by my answer. So they just- let me, let me just say this, OK. That was sickening to me. And what has happened since now to Palestinians is sickening to me. I’m a human being. Everything I’m going to tell you today is the same thing: stop the tribalism, stop fighting each other. Stop separating based on how you eat or how you pray, or how you think or how you live.”
Phillips continued for three or so minutes about his belief in Israel’s right to exist and his belief in Palestinians’ right to self-determination, his opposition to settlements, his view that Netanyahu opened Israel up to the October 7 attack “by being distracted at a time when he was pursuing judicial reform.”
“I do not have to take a side. I’m going to take the side of humans. That’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “So those of you who believe deeply in human beings, please defend Israelis and please defend Palestinians. Please join me in being the president that finally recognizes the State of Palestine. And believe me, we will not do so with the same leaders and the same positions doing the same damn thing. OK, that is why I’m saying. It is time for new leadership in the West Bank to the West Wing.”
The congressman tried to move on to the next question. But the young man who had interrupted Phillips was not satisfied by his lengthy answer — and instigated the following exchange:
Young man: Can I ask one follow-up question? I have a question. Congressman. Congressman. Congress-you can kick me out of here in a minute.
Dean Phillips: I don’t wanna kick anybody out, but I lead with respect and you’re being disrespectful. So I’m giving it to this gentleman.
YM: Three weeks ago, three weeks, you said-
DP: Just let him be obnoxious. This is how it works in twenty-first century politics… Hold on I will call on you if you play by the rules and be decent. You know what? I will call on you. Why are you the only one that thinks-
YM: Three weeks ago-“
DP: I’m going to end this because you’re being unfair to people who are also here. Go ahead, sir, go ahead.
At this point, Phillips staffers moved to remove the interruptor. He continued as he was escorted out:
YM: Three weeks ago, you said that Benjamin Netanyahu was a bad guy, but you have not said that Israel committed war crimes. Has Israel committed war crimes? Can you say that?
On Tuesday, “write-in Joe Biden” is all but certain to triumph over “write-in ceasefire,” Phillips and Williamson. But how the votes split in the Democratic contest could offer some signs about how broadly Biden can build his coalition come November — and whether there’s a space for the progressive, pro-Palestine crowd who yell for ceasefire and rattle the White House gates.