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These college students are mad about Gaza – but it won’t drive their vote: From the Politics Desk

Plus, Biden delivers a "law" and "order" message on campus protests.
Pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrate on campus
Pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrate Thursday on the campus of George Washington University in Washington, D.C.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, national political reporter Ben Kamisar breaks down our latest focus groups with young voters in battleground Wisconsin. Plus, senior national political reporter Jonathan Allen notes how President Joe Biden leaned into a "law" and "order message in response to campus protests.

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These young voters are mad about Gaza — but don’t see it driving their vote

By Ben Kamisar

They’re mad about the situation in Gaza, and they’re not going to take it anymore. But they probably aren’t going to vote on it. 

That was the key takeaway from the latest NBC News Deciders focus groups — in collaboration with Engagious, Syracuse University and Sago — of independent Wisconsin college students. Virtually all of the 16 students we spoke to backed the wave of pro-Palestinian protests sweeping college campuses and held dim views of President Joe Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, and some have even participated in the protests themselves.


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Pushed to reckon with how the issue may influence their vote in the presidential election, few said they expected it to change who they will for, except for a few who questioned whether they may be less likely to cast a ballot at all.

Why? Largely because they don’t see Biden and former President Donald Trump as having meaningfully different stances on Israel. 

“I don’t think Biden is doing a great job; I don’t think Trump would do a better job. … As it stands, I can’t see it changing how I vote.” — Cooper M., a 19-year-old University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student who is currently backing Biden

But even if Biden’s handling of the war is not likely to be a main driver of their votes, it’s clear these students feel passionately about it and are almost unilaterally supportive of these protests.

“It’s completely unfair for students who are paying tuition to not have a say in where their money goes.” — Suchita H., a 19-year-old student who is backing Biden and attends the University of Wisconsin-Madison

“The protests are very empowering to see a lot of young people on these campuses rising up together in solidarity with Gaza and the Palestinian people.” — Sophia K., an 18-year-old UW-Madison student who said she would vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein

None of the students had decided to join the encampments themselves, even those who had attended the protests. And the majority of them drew the line against protesters occupying buildings, as has happened on some campuses like Columbia University. Four students said they supported the tactic. 

“I would not prefer it, but I do think that’s almost the only way. A lot of people who talk about peaceful protest don’t realize that the point of protest is to carry out radical change, and as long as it’s peaceful and not getting in anyone’s way, that’s exactly when no one cares about it.” — Suchita H.

“It’s going to make the tuition rates go up even more if we start destroying the resources that we have already. I just think it’s unproductive to be destroying what we already have.” — Angelina J., a 19-year-old University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh student who said she would vote for Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Read more from the latest NBC News Deciders focus groups, including how these voters view a potential TikTok ban →


Biden’s ‘law’ and ‘order’ message on campus protests 

By Jonathan Allen

Biden emphasized two words Thursday when he addressed the nationwide campus protests over Gaza: “law” and “order.”

Notably, Biden didn’t use them in the same phrase, avoiding the timeless echo of Richard Nixon that Donald Trump repeated during the 2020 protests following George Floyd’s killing.

Nevertheless, Biden’s message was clear: He doesn’t stand with protesters who break the law.

“Peaceful protest is in the best tradition of how Americans respond to consequential issues,” Biden said. “But neither are we a lawless country. We’re a civil society, and order must prevail.”

Of course, each protest is different. The grievances of the Vietnam generation are distinct from those of people who demonstrated against police violence in 2020 and the current set that wants the U.S. to stop funding Israel as it wages war in Gaza.

But Biden’s remarks hint at the political risks of perceived chaos. He’s trying to win swing voters in swing states, and the ongoing protests have included rhetoric and behavior that are well outside the mainstream.

“It’s against the law when violence occurs,” he said. “Destroying property is not a peaceful protest. It’s against the law — vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations.”

And, he added, “Dissent is essential to democracy, but dissent must never lead to disorder.” 

Biden is obviously walking a tightrope between those in his party who agree with the sentiments of the pro-Palestinian protesters and those who are either alienated by the demonstrators’ views or the ways in which they are being expressed.

But if he falls off, he’s going to be sure it’s on the side of “law” and “order.” No doubt he remembers Nixon and Trump saying it.

Read more on how Trump is trying to make the campus protests a political liability for Biden →


Trump trial, Day 10: Former Stormy Daniels attorney recounts hush money deal struck before 2016 election

By Adam Reiss, Jillian Frankel, Gary Grumbach and Dareh Gregorian

Trump’s hush money trial resumed Thursday in a Manhattan courtroom with a former lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels recounting the deal struck days before the 2016 election to suppress her claims that she had a sexual encounter with Trump — and the role he suggested the deal may have played in his campaign victory.

“What have we done?” attorney Keith Davidson said in a text sent on election night to the National Enquirer executive who’d helped him to mediate the deal. “Oh my god,” responded the exec, Dylan Howard, who was the Enquirer’s editor-in-chief at the time. He described the text as “gallows humor” about their understanding that “our activities may have in some way assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.” 

On cross-examination, Trump’s attorney Emil Bove tried undermining Davidson’s credibility by asking him about other salacious tabloid stories he had been involved with, including people who peddled sex tapes featuring wrestler Hulk Hogan and influencer Tila Tequila, and a person who allegedly leaked information about actress Lindsay Lohan’s stint in rehab. 

Davidson was evasive with his answers, saying he couldn’t remember details about specific cases. “I had over 1,500 clients in my career,” he said.

He acknowledged that he was investigated for extortion in relation to the Hogan tape back in 2012. “That is true,” he told Bove, while denying any wrongdoing.  

Read more from the Trump trial →



🗞️ Today’s top stories

  • 🚫 Casting doubt: In interviews with 50 Republican voters across a dozen states, a majority said they wouldn’t accept a Biden victory this fall as legitimate. Trump again said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he may not accept the 2024 presidential election results. Read more →
  • 🗓️ Biden’s past opponents speak: The New York Times spoke with a handful of Republicans who ran against the president during his decades in the Senate, unearthing pieces of trivia like the fact that opponents aired only one negative ad against Biden from 1978 to 2008. Read more →
  • 🇯🇵 Friends like these: Biden called Japan “xenophobic” as he said their economy is “having trouble,” comments the U.S. ally has not yet responded to. Read more →
  • 🌵 Raising (the abortion issue in) Arizona: Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs signed a bill repealing Arizona’s near-total abortion ban. The issue has also added another layer to a crowded and competitive GOP congressional primary that includes the state House speaker. Read more →
  • 🏠 Gen Z in the House? 27-year-old Joe Vogel, the youngest Maryland state delegate in history, is looking to double Gen Z’s representation in the House as he runs in the state’s open 6th District. Read more →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at politicsnewsletter@nbcuni.com

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