Apr 30, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: GOP plots ad blitz over pro-Palestinian college protests

Organizer student Ziniab Imtair speaks as hundreds of students are gathered at San Francisco State University (SFSU) to protest Israeli attacks on Gaza

Organizer student Ziniab Imtair speaks as hundreds of students are gathered at San Francisco State University. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images

Republican Senate and House campaign arms are already cutting footage and ready to launch campaign ads as soon as Wednesday slamming vulnerable Democrats for not condemning the protests that have erupted on college campuses over Israel's war in Gaza, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The escalating tension on campuses in recent days has once again put a spotlight on one of the most sensitive and divisive issues within the Democratic Party.

Driving the news: The National Senatorial Campaign Committee is launching ads tomorrow going after Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Elissa Slotkin running in Michigan — focused on antisemitism and campus protests.

  • They plan to tie student loan forgiveness to supporting some of the more extreme protesters, saying Democrats "think hardworking taxpayers should cover pro-Hamas students' tuition," NRSC spokesman Tate Mitchell said in a statement first shared with Axios.
  • The House GOP arm is also planning to launch ads as soon as tomorrow, featuring protest footage and claiming Democrats "cower to the whims of dangerous Antisemites in their party," a House GOP strategist told Axios.
  • The NRCC started selling "F**k Hamas" t-shirts last week.

In the Senate, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is making ads tying protesters to President Biden and Senate Democrats — and preparing a messaging bill that would block pro-Palestinian protesters from student loan forgiveness, a senior adviser told Axios.

  • GOP leadership plans to hammer the issue on social media and encourage Senate Republicans to talk about the protests as hateful toward Jewish students, making campuses less safe and tying them to chaos under Biden, a conference spokesperson told Axios.

Between the lines: Support of Israel and condemnation of student protests is a rare issue where Republicans are more united than Democrats, after months of GOP infighting over Ukraine aid, the border and abortion.

  • President Biden continues to lose young voters over his handling of the war in Gaza, and has struggled to thread the political needle of support for Israel while demanding humanitarian concerns be addressed. Polling shows more than half of voters ages 18-29 support a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.
  • Student blockades in college buildings and ongoing protests despite universities' efforts to tamp down also drew attention from Democrats' plan to recenter the abortion issue as strict restrictions snap into effect in Florida.

The bottom line: Democrats have struggled to find a consistent message on the Israel-Palestine conflict, with top Democrats, like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), being more and more critical of the Israeli government in recent months.

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