<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=192888919167017&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Wednesday,  June 19 , 2024

Linkedin Pinterest
News / Opinion / Columns
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Skelton: Campus protests may hurt Dems

By George Skelton
Published: May 13, 2024, 6:01am

Don’t be surprised if these annoying protests on college campuses turn out bad for Democrats. They usually do.

If history is any guide, Republicans will capitalize on the divided Democrats’ perceived weakness and appear to be the stronger party in November.

Already, Donald Trump seems to have benefited from the heavy media focus on pro-Palestinian protests and their tent encampments. It has drawn attention away from the first criminal trial of a former president in the nation’s history.

Here’s a guy charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with hush money paid to a porn actor to cover up an alleged sexual encounter. And for several days, trial coverage was fogged by TV footage of campus protests. That is, until the porn star herself, Stormy Daniels, testified.

At any rate, what should have been a two-week bright spotlight on the sins of the GOP’s prospective presidential nominee was dimmed by campus turmoil, which included antisemitic chants, threats toward Jewish students and cancellation or reshuffling of commencement ceremonies.

One danger for Democrats is that many voters will view the campus disobedience as another sign that America is headed in the wrong direction.

It’s another sign like “smash and grab” thefts at retail stores. And rampant homelessness — tent encampments on sidewalks and in parks. Now the tent encampments have sprouted on college campuses and are occupied by privileged students.

“Students’ rights are being trampled by protesters and administrators who are unable or unwilling to protect students,” California Assembly Republican leader James Gallagher asserted. That’s just an example of what we can expect from the GOP as long as the protests continue.

In roily times like these, voters tend to look for strength in candidates — not wishy-washy politicians trying have it both ways.

M. Steven Fish, a political scientist at Cal-Berkeley, put it this way in a New York Times op-ed:

“Politics is a dominance competition, and Mr. Trump is an avid and ruthless practitioner of it. He offers a striking contrast with most Democrats, who are more likely to fret over focus-group data and issue ever more solemn pledges to control prescription drug prices.”

President Joe Biden deserves credit for being solid in his support for Israel while trying to broker a temporary cease-fire.

On Tuesday, at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony, he decried a “ferocious surge” in antisemitism.

“People are already forgetting” who started the Israel-Hamas war, Biden said. “They’re already forgetting that Hamas unleashed this terror, that it was Hamas that brutalized Israelis, that it was Hamas who took and continues to hold hostages. … In America, we respect and protect the fundamental right to free speech, to debate and disagree, to protest peacefully and make our voices heard. But there is no place on any campus in America … for antisemitism or hate speech or threats of violence of any kind— whether against Jews or anyone else.”

So, Biden is being strong. His problem, of course, is age discrimination. He appears weak to many voters, and he’s in particular danger of losing young voters.

Trump is the strongman for his worshippers.

Republican Ronald Reagan was the strongman candidate running for governor in 1966 with the invaluable help of “free speech,” “dirty speech” and anti-Vietnam War protests at UC Berkeley.

He beat the weak-seeming Gov. Pat Brown in a landslide.

Then, in 1968, antiwar protests — particularly a bloody riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago — helped elect Republican Richard Nixon president. Democrats were divided over the Vietnam War, and their nominee, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, was weak.

Stay informed on what is happening in Clark County, WA and beyond for only

These pro-Palestinian protests can’t be equated to the yearslong anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. America’s youth was being drafted to die in combat — more than 58,000 of them did — in an unwinnable, foolish war. Relatively few Americans are directly affected by the Israel-Hamas fighting.

The Democratic Party should hope that the campus protests end when the summer breaks begin — and don’t restart in the fall.

George Skelton covers politics and government for the Los Angeles Times.