The unfolding escalation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has introduced a new element into US domestic politics, with particular impact upon upcoming 2024 presidential elections.
The advent of Hamas’ October 7th attack was met with initial public solidarity with Israel in the days that followed—only to become fractured after Israel has doubled down on its campaign in Gaza that has imposed an estimated 11,078 death toll amongst Gaza residents—40% reported to be children—raising questions about the offensive’s humanitarian effects on Palestinian civilians.
While the Republican Party has maintained a general consensus over full-fledged backing of Israel and its offensive against Hamas, the Democratic Party has demonstrated notable fractures over the extent—if at all—to which the US should support Israel’s campaign.
This fractured position has challenged the Biden administration and his candidacy in the 2024 presidential race, forcing Biden and his campaign to adopt a careful balance between support for Israel and Palestinian civilians, amidst changing public attitudes and an increasingly critical Democratic Party.
Read more: How Israel misread Hamas
The Republican Party demonstrated widespread solidarity with Israel in the days that followed the October 7th attacks. According to the University of Maryland’s Critical Issues Poll with Ipsos, 71.9% of Republicans assert they support Israel—nearly doubling since they were last polled in June of this year when just 47.3% said they supported Israel.
Republicans sitting on the oversight panel in the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee—in which there is a Republican majority—signed a letter to USAID administrator Samantha Power indicating their intent to investigate USAID humanitarian aid into Gaza and the West Bank to ensure no taxpayer dollars have been diverted to Hamas. The Republican-majority House approved a military aid package of $14.5 billion—an initiative that was largely partisan and alienated pro-Israel Democrats and the Biden administration due to IRS funding cuts.
While the bill was a test for the new Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, the bill was vetoed by the Biden administration for lack of humanitarian provisions for Palestinians and breakage from bipartisan norms for emergency national security aid, demonstrating a widening divide between Democrats and Republicans over foreign assistance.
The crisis in Gaza was prominently featured in the November 8 presidential debate for Republican candidates, with the majority of candidates jostling to be perceived as the biggest champion of Israel and hawk on Iran. The five candidates that took the debate floor, Governor Ron DeSantis, Governor Nikki Haley, Governor Chris Christie, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Senator Tim Scott, all asserted their full-fledged support of Israel and military campaign against Hamas.
Some candidates like Ron DeSantis and Tim Scott (who has just dropped out of the race) additionally incorporated the war into ongoing culture war narratives emerging within the US. DeSantis downplayed attacks against Muslim-Americans as examples of “so-called Islamophobia” and complaints that disregarded Israel’s right to defend itself.
Responding to campus debates and demonstrations throughout American universities, Scott threatened to deport students with visas espousing pro-Hamas and/or antiemetic beliefs. Other candidates like Nikki Haley asserted that the US did not need to place conditions around support to Israel, offering them “whatever they need”—a sentiment that was echoed by Governor Chris Christie who signaled to Israel’s Prime Minster Netanyahu, “America is here, no matter what it is you need.”
Christie has additionally announced an upcoming trip to Israel, where he will speak with officials and families of hostages—making him the first Republican candidate to visit the country in the wake of the October 7th attacks. There were clear messages from Republican candidates regarding their posture on Hamas and the extent of Israel’s ground and air offensive: Governor Haley encouraged Israel to “finish” Hamas; Ron DeSantis stated Israel needed to “finish the job once and for all with these butchers [Hamas]”; Senator Tim Scott who asserted that Hamas needed to be wiped “off the map.”