Feb 29, 2024

The Michigan primary results.

The Michigan primary results.
Photo by Clay Banks / Unsplash

Plus, a question about Nikki Haley and No Labels.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

In Tuesday's primary, there were warning signs for both Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Plus, a reader question about Nikki Haley and No Labels.

Editor's note.

Yesterday, we noted that a statistical analysis estimated 50,000 Russian troops had died in the war in Ukraine. That link went to a story conducted by two Russian news outlets in July of 2023. The same news networks conducted the study again this past weekend and estimated that 75,000 Russian troops have been killed. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence estimates over 300,000 Russians have been killed or injured in the war.

Reader feedback.

Yesterday, in answer to a reader question about Aaron Bushnell, I objected to the way some people were framing his suicide. I also said that I doubted his self-immolation changed anyone’s mind, and invited readers to share their responses. One reader took me up on the offer, saying "Bushnell's suicide reminds me of a self immolation by Norman Morrison at the Pentagon protesting our war in Vietnam. The official in charge of the war wrote that Morrison's suicide changed his attitude about the war. It, and Buddhist immolations, changed my life profoundly. I accepted my part in the war through paying taxes that paid for it, and began refusing to pay war taxes. I became active in organizing against the war, volunteering to make a statewide student union against the war.”

Quick hits.

  1. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced he will be stepping down from his leadership position after the 2024 election. He is the longest serving Senate leader in Congressional history. (The announcement)
  2. The Supreme Court announced it will hear arguments the week of April 22 to determine whether Trump is immune from federal charges for his role in January 6. The date could mean a conclusion to the trial will not come until after the election. (The date)
  3. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared a state of emergency as the Smokehouse Creek Fire became the state's second largest wildfire ever, covering an area greater than the state of Rhode Island. (The fires
  4. Hunter Biden testified in a closed-door hearing before the House Oversight Committee and Judiciary committees as part of the impeachment inquiry into his father. (The testimony
  5. The House of Representatives is set to vote on a stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown on Thursday. (The vote)

Today's topic.

The Michigan primary. On Tuesday, Democratic and Republican voters participated in the Michigan primary, giving the first indication of where the most enthusiastic voters stand in this critical swing state heading into the 2024 election.

Most of the focus Tuesday night was on the Democratic side, where President Joe Biden won the primary with 81% of the vote. However, Biden faced a campaign from Michigan's Arab and Muslim leaders calling on voters to voice their displeasure with his handling of Israel's invasion of Gaza. 

A coalition of pro-Palestinian groups formed the “Listen to Michigan” campaign, holding rallies, phone banking, running digital ads, and sending out mailers asking voters to cast "uncommitted" ballots as a way to pressure Biden into calling for a ceasefire while showing him the weight their coalition pulls in Michigan. The group started small, but was strengthened by backing from Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D).

Michigan has a history of voting “uncommitted” in the primaries. In 2012, “uncommitted” received 11% of the state’s vote in then-President Barack Obama’s primary victory. This year, Listen to Michigan aimed to get 10,000 votes, the margin Trump won the state by in 2016. They blew past their goal, registering over 100,000 uncommitted ballots, roughly 13% of everyone who voted in the Democratic primary. In 2020, Biden defeated former President Donald Trump in Michigan by about 154,000 votes.

“Today’s choice was not Donald Trump or Joe Biden. It was a choice about who we want our Democratic nominee to be,” Michigan state Rep. Alabas Farhat (D) told The Wall Street Journal. “A broad coalition today coalesced around the idea that we want a nominee who can clearly call for a cease-fire.”

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, former President Donald Trump won 68.2% of the Republican vote against Nikki Haley, who received 26.6%. Trump once again struggled with college-educated voters, and under-performed in many suburban areas. Still, the results marked the weakest performance Haley has had in a primary yet, and Trump’s march toward the nomination looks just as assured as the incumbent’s.

Today, we're going to take a look at some reactions to the results from the right and left, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is encouraged by the results, stressing that Trump leads Biden in every swing state.
  • Many say Biden’s struggles in Michigan put his faults into focus.
  • A few maintain caution, saying that Trump is not nearly as strong as the results so far make it seem.

In RedState, Nick Arama said the results “spell big trouble for Biden, good news for Trump.”

“Biden lost over 101,000 people to ‘uncommitted,’ with the votes for Marianne Williamson and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) making it more than 140,000 ‘not Biden.’ It was even worse in Dearborn, where Biden lost the city,” Arama said. “It should also be noted that the turnout for Democrats was lower than for Republicans, with 1,110,373 voting in the Republican primary and 762,187 [in the Democratic primary]… This all spells big trouble for Joe Biden in the general election.”

“While he might get the crossovers who voted for Haley back, if a substantial number of the 140,000+ people who wouldn't vote for him in the primary stay away as they might in the general election, that's the game right there,” Arama said. “The primary seems to be in line with the RCP average which has Trump up by 5.1 points now. All the current polls in Michigan have Trump up. If the numbers can hold, and Trump takes Michigan that also spells bad news for Biden nationwide as well. Trump is up right now in all the swing states in the polls.”

In PJ Media, Matt Margolis wrote about Biden’s “Michigan Problem.”

“The protest vote in Michigan against Biden was far more successful than its organizers had hoped. Anti-Israeli War group Listen to Michigan reportedly set out to win just 10,000 votes — roughly equivalent to the number of votes that Donald Trump won the state by in 2016 — in the hopes of showing Biden that he could lose the state over his public support of Israel in its war against Hamas,” Margolis said. “On its face, that prospect could be enough to influence Biden's public position on the Israel-Hamas war, though even that would be risky.

“As PJMedia's Rick Moran noted, ‘there are five times the number of Jewish voters in the U.S. than Muslim voters,’ which means there's ‘no chance that Biden will withdraw his support from Israel.’ Biden has been trying desperately to please both Jewish and Muslim voters by publicly supporting Israel while simultaneously advocating for a ceasefire, and I think he will continue to try,” Margolis wrote. “Currently, polls have Donald Trump in the lead, and Tuesday's primary shows much more energy for Trump in Michigan, as more voters backed him than Biden and ‘Uncommitted’ combined. If you're in the Biden White House or the Biden-Harris campaign, alarm bells are going off.”

In The Daily Beast, Matt Lewis said that Trump’s primary dominance “is an illusion.”

“Make no mistake: Trump could lose the presidency if Haley-style Republicans stay home. In fact, there is reason to believe this phenomenon already cost him the 2020 election,” at least in Wisconsin. “Now, the good news for Trump is that the other side has problems, too.” Arab Democrats told Biden “that continued support for Israel could likely cost him not only the state of Michigan (where there are more Arab Americans than any of the other 49 states), but the entire general election. 

“But while Biden’s challenges are widely understood, Trump’s supporters seem convinced he’s invincible. They shouldn’t be,” Margolis said. “Trump has chosen a style of campaigning and governing that focuses on narrowcasting and fan service directed toward his most rabid base, even at the expense of offending Reagan conservatives, suburban women, independents, etc. For nearly nine years now, Trump has gone out of his way to create a cult-like movement of loyal fanatics, rather than a broad coalition of voters. And a necessary part of this process was purging anyone who wasn’t 100 percent pure.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left was impressed by the Listen to Michigan movement, though some doubt it will do anything to change Biden’s agenda.
  • Others leaned into the movement’s message, saying Biden has to support a ceasefire now to have any hope of winning in November.
  • A few focused on Trump, saying his consistent underperformance shows his position is extremely weak.

In The Detroit Free Press, Nancy Kaffer wrote that voters who were uncommitted “flexed” in Michigan’s primary.

“The outcome in most states is a foregone conclusion, because those states have a long history of going red or blue; barring unforeseen disasters, the 270towin.com map predicts, Democrats start the November count with 226 electoral votes, Republicans with 235,” Kaffer wrote. “The presidential election will be decided in that handful of key states… like Arizona and Georgia and Pennsylvania and, of course, Michigan, all states where former President Donald Trump is consistently polling ahead of Biden. So it’s worth understanding what Michiganders told the candidates on Tuesday night.”

“With 98% of votes counted Wednesday morning, 100,960 ballots had been cast for ‘uncommitted,’ around 13% of the vote. There are a lot of ways to parse this,” Kaffer said. “I believe that three things give the protest vote's 13% more weight: The slim margins by which Trump won Michigan in 2016, and lost it in 2020, Biden's consistently poor polling here, and the resonance of ‘uncommitted’ beyond Michigan's Arab American communities.” Still, the movement’s goals aren’t clear. “If Biden does effect a cease-fire, can the groups deliver Arab American and antiwar votes for Biden, whom some activists have dubbed ‘Genocide Joe?’ I'm not sure they want to.”

In CounterPunch, Sam Rosenthal wrote about how Michigan highlights “Biden’s extremely precarious presidency.”

“Up until Tuesday’s presidential primary in Michigan, President Joe Biden has met little electoral resistance as he rolls towards renomination as the Democrats’ candidate for president. This is partly to do with Biden-friendly changes the Democratic National Committee made in this year’s primary calendar, but also reflects an unwillingness by members of Biden’s own party to attempt to question his renomination, even amidst ominous signs for Biden’s reelection. That may have changed Tuesday night after a grassroots movement encouraging voters to cast an ‘uncommitted’ ballot in Michigan’s presidential primary startled Biden and his team.”

“If even a significant percentage of the primary electorate that voted uncommitted in Michigan either does not vote, votes third party, or, God forbid, chooses Trump over Biden in November, then Biden will surely lose the state,” Rosenthal said. “After Tuesday’s wake-up call, it appears probable that the Democrats have just two remaining paths to victory in 2024: the Biden administration can make a 180-degree turn, join the rest of the UN in opposing Israel’s assault on Gaza, and try their damnedest to broker a lasting peace there. If the administration is incapable of doing that, the Democrats must look for a different candidate for the top of the ticket.”

In MSNBC, James Downie wrote that Trump “should be worried” after his Michigan victory.

“The results from Tuesday’s Michigan Democratic primary, where roughly 13% of voters chose ‘uncommitted,’ might as well be a Rorschach test,” Downie said. “But there was no ambiguity on the Republican side: Former President Donald Trump underperformed his polls yet again.” On one hand, “he easily defeated former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, 68.2% to 26.6%. But pre-election surveys gave Trump an even greater edge of 50 or even 60 percentage points.”

“Michigan marks the fourth consecutive contest in which Trump’s final margin has fallen short of pre-contest polling averages,” Downie said. “The party infrastructure is in tatters, with the Republican National Committee possibly putting itself on the hook for Trump’s legal bills. Abortion, its weakest issue in recent elections, remains a liability, as last week’s Alabama Supreme Court ruling against IVF demonstrated. Add to all that the consistent underperformances at the polls, and the alarm bells, for Republicans at least, go from muted to blaring.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • A lot of things have broken in Trump's favor in the last 24 hours.
  • The uncommitted vote is a concern for Biden, but his polling in Michigan is a far bigger deal.
  • It's very odd, but right now we have two candidates who both look weak.

It has been a very bad 24 hours for Joe Biden.

A brief recap: The Hamas-Israel ceasefire he said might be coming as soon as this weekend appears to not be coming at all. The Supreme Court has opted to hear Donald Trump's immunity challenge not in the next few weeks but in late April, all but assuring the federal case regarding his actions before and during January 6 probably won’t be resolved before the election. A new Bloomberg/Morning Consult poll shows Trump ahead in every swing state. And Mitch McConnell, one of the few Republicans left that Biden seems capable of negotiating with, is stepping down from leadership.

Then there's Michigan.

Much of the discussion about the results from Tuesday focuses on the uncommitted vote, and rightfully so. 100,000 people casting protest votes in a primary election is a big deal, especially in a state where the margins have been so thin for so many elections. As I've said in the past, the Muslim and Arab leaders in Michigan are punching way above their weight in terms of political power, and I applaud them for it. Pulling off what they just did took significant organizing, funding and focus, and they have made their voices heard in a way that the Biden campaign can't ignore.

On the other hand, Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg made the argument that the uncommitted vote in Michigan was not quite as big a deal as people are making it out to be. He described it as a "very modest 13%, just 2 points higher than Uncommitted got against Obama in 2012," and argued this:

Let’s review some data. 100,000 people voted uncommitted in Michigan last night. About 100,000 Arab Americans voted for Biden in Michigan in 2020. Let’s assume that 50,000 of those people stay home this November. That’s a little less than 1% of the total vote this fall. Can we make it up other places? Can we work really hard to get number down? Yes and yes. I characterize what’s happening right now as more of a challenge to Biden than a threat. But we have work to do.

I think that is a fair and level-headed perspective for a Democratic strategist to have. But I also think that there is a very good chance this race comes down to 20,000 or 30,000 votes, and when I listen to some of the voters behind the "uncommitted" push I do not hear voters who are going to simply fall in line come November if things keep going the way they are.

What should be far more concerning for Biden, though, is his polling. He hasn't led a Michigan poll since last November, and the latest Morning Consult poll has him down by 2%. This is the threat: Consistently poor polling that hasn't really moved, despite the changes to the economy and new political realities like the war in Gaza or the immigration crisis on the southern border. In other words, there is a subset of voters in Michigan that looks fixed against him.

But like James Downie said (under “What the left is saying,”), Michigan was kind of a Rohrshach test in which the Republican challenger didn’t look great, either. Trump, once again, showed weakness in the suburbs, with women, and among college-educated voters. This is now a consistent theme of his primary run and, of course, of how Republicans have been doing more broadly. I think it's fair to say Trump is "winning" the race right now based on the horse race polling, but these are the people Trump will need to win in November and right now he doesn't have them.

Here’s the upshot: The warning signs you’re hearing are blaring out for both candidates — not just in Michigan, but across the country. This won’t come as breaking news, but this election will come down to who can pull out narrow victories in the country's critical seven swing states, and right now, neither candidate seems to be allaying the concerns of the undecided voters.

Disagree? That's okay. My opinion is just one of many. Write in and let us know why, and we'll consider publishing your feedback.

Your questions, answered.

Q: There's some recent chatter about Nikki Haley being nominated by No Labels. I'd love to read your team's thoughts on that option. I believe there are enough "never Trump" and "Joe's too old" voters out there to make this upcoming race very interesting. Your thoughts?

— Jim from Rogers, AR

Tangle: I think it won’t happen. Nikki Haley has reportedly been nominated by the No Labels organization for their unity ticket, and she’s reportedly declined. You don’t have to take their word for it, either — take Haley’s. “I’m a Republican. You go on a No Labels ticket, what does that mean? A Democrat vice president. That’s not who I am. I’m a conservative. I’ve always been a hardcore Republican,” Haley told Utah’s Deseret News in an interview ahead of the state’s primary on Super Tuesday.

Getting a major Republican onto their unity ticket has been a little tricky for No Labels, since many states have “sore loser laws” that would prevent a candidate who runs in a party’s primary from declaring in the general election as an independent or third-party candidate. No Labels is also having a difficult time finding a Democrat, after retiring West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D) ultimately rebuffed their invitation. What other Democrat who values their political future would run against Biden for an organization that is drawing the ire and suspicion of the Democratic Party?

In case you didn’t know about that, Democratic groups are trying to find out who the major donors to No Labels really are, since they think the group could lead to another Donald Trump presidency. Never-Trump Republicans agree, as John Hendrickson recently quoted The Lincoln Project Republicans calling the organization “stupid” and “calamitous,” and saying anyone involved with them should be “publicly shamed to society’s utmost ability to do so.”

In his piece in The Atlantic, Hendrickson painted the group in unflattering colors, describing No Labels as a political organization that didn’t want to be political, and as a group who is in it to win it but also doesn’t care about winning.

Frankly, the article confirmed some of my priors about No Labels. I’ve said in response to another question that while I support independent runs and multiple parties, I couldn’t comment on No Labels as a group because I just had no idea what No Labels stands for (other than supporting bipartisanship). And since they still don’t have presidential candidates for this presidential race, I’m led to believe that they don’t know what they stand for either. 

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

The seventh case of measles linked to an outbreak at a Florida elementary school has been confirmed by health officials. The outbreak is occurring at Manatee Bay Elementary in Weston, about 20 miles west of Fort Lauderdale, after an initial case was confirmed earlier this month in a third grader with no travel history. Broward County now has nine confirmed measles cases. The disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, meaning it was no longer present in the country, but a dip in childhood vaccinations along with travelers bringing the disease into the U.S. has resulted in new outbreaks. ABC News has the story.


  • 20,833. The number of “uncommitted” votes in the Democratic Primary in Michigan in 2012, the last time that election featured an incumbent — 10.7% of the vote.
  • 449,238. Barack Obama’s margin of victory in Michigan in 2012 — 9.5 points ahead of Mitt Romney.
  • 101,436. The number of “uncommitted” votes in the Democratic Primary in Michigan this year — 13.2% of the vote.
  • 154,188. Joe Biden’s margin of victory in Michigan in 2020 — 2.8 points ahead of Donald Trump.
  • 11.4. The number of percentage points between Donald Trump’s expected vote share in the last Michigan poll and the total vote share he received.
  • 5. The number of days until the next critical swing state primary in North Carolina on Super Tuesday.
  • 5.7%. Donald Trump’s lead over Joe Biden in North Carolina, according to a polling average by RealClearPolitics.

The extras.

Yesterday’s poll: 72% of the 644 Tangle readers who responded to our poll on Ukrainian aid said U.S. aid should be unconditional, up 22 points from our last poll on this topic on December 6. “As a Vietnam veteran I feel it is our duty to stand by our word. Military aid, not troops, is a small price to pay for Ukraine’s freedom,” one respondent said.

February 28, 2024:

December 6, 2023:

What do you think the results of the Michigan primaries tell us about the presidential election? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

The Dotonbori River that runs through the densely populated entertainment district in Osaka, Japan, was so contaminated with sludge in the 1980s that it barely contained any oxygen. Now, after the installation of sluice gates, this urban waterway has been found to host a robust population of one of the country’s most beloved fish — the Japanese eel. Last year, the Mainichi, the oldest English daily paper in Japan, partnered with the Research Institute of Environment, Agriculture and Fisheries in the Osaka Prefecture to conduct a study on the eel population in the Dotonbori River. The team not only caught 11 individuals, the first-ever caught under scientific observation, but confirmed that crabs and other creatures the eels feed on also live in the river, making it a full-fledged ecosystem. The Mainichi has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.