Facebook Twitter

The debate about the Middle East has reached Ivy League campuses. Here’s what DeSantis and Ramaswamy say

Plus, less than half of Americans trust Biden to make the right decisions in handling the war in Israel

SHARE The debate about the Middle East has reached Ivy League campuses. Here’s what DeSantis and Ramaswamy say
A pro-Israel demonstrator shouts at Palestinian supporters during a protest at Columbia University on Oct. 12, 2023, in New York

A pro-Israel demonstrator shouts at Palestinian supporters during a protest at Columbia University on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, in New York. As the death toll rises in the Israel-Hamas war, American colleges have become seats of anguish with many Jewish students calling for strong condemnation after civilian attacks by Hamas while some Muslim students are pressing for recognition of decades of suffering by Palestinians in Gaza.

Yuki Iwamura, Associated Press

This article was first published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here.

Good morning and welcome to On the Trail 2024, the Deseret News’ campaign newsletter. I’m Samuel Benson, Deseret’s national political correspondent.

Here’s the latest from the Deseret News’ 2024 election coverage:

The Big Idea

College activism hits the campaign trail

A friend of mine boarded a plane for Israel over the weekend. Shabbos is an Orthodox Jew. He’s progressive on politics — he voted for Bernie Sanders twice. His views on Palestine and Zionism are nuanced. But what’s going on right now in the Holy Land isn’t political. “This is a matter of humanity versus depravity,” he told my colleague Hanna Seariac.

On campus at Harvard, where Shabbos attends, many of his fellow students vehemently disagree about who is to blame. A week ago Saturday, hours after Hamas terrorists slaughtered more Jews in a single day than any previous day since the Holocaust, 30 student organizations at Harvard signed onto a letter saying Israel was “entirely responsible” for the attack. The backlash was swift: major donors announced they’d no longer support the university. A formal university response took two days to formulate, during which time a former Harvard president — and more donors — denounced the university.

Some of the Harvard students who signed on to the letter have since withdrawn their support, some even claiming they never read the statement before it was released. Many of their names and pictures have been posted on the internet or on a “doxxing truck” — a large video board that circled Harvard’s campus last week.

A similar story is playing out at elite universities across the country. The Jon Huntsman family will “close its checkbook” to Penn. A petition to ouster a Yale professor who called Israel “genocidal” has gone viral. Columbia closed its campus and moved classes online after an Israeli student was allegedly assaulted.

The chaos has stirred up conversations about the moral moorings at elite institutions. And it’s caused two presidential candidates to speak up about a topic they often avoid: their own time as students at Ivy League universities.

Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy both have glistening academic credentials. DeSantis got a bachelor’s at Yale and went to Harvard Law. Ramaswamy went to Harvard and then Yale Law. They rarely talk about their educational pedigrees, except to bash their alma maters. And while Republican presidential candidates once used such resumes to woo voters, they “now must avoid alienating the large share of Republican voters who never went to college at all,” The Wall Street Journal noted.

DeSantis and Ramaswamy have made a habit of critiquing their former schools. DeSantis has called them factories of “indoctrination” that churn out “nothing but garbage.” Ramaswamy has called them “pathetic, hollowed-out husks” of the schools he once knew. He graduated from Yale Law in 2013. They’ve both found plenty to critique in recent days: DeSantis called Harvard students’ support for Hamas a “total disgrace,” and Ramaswamy called the students “fools.”

But as two individuals who’ve tried to distance themselves from their own Ivy League pasts, they’re split on how to treat the students. DeSantis said he “would run the other way if I saw any of those kids wanting a job from me.” Ramaswamy called for a more tepid approach, saying it’s “not productive” for potential future employers to “blacklist” them: “Colleges are spaces for students to experiment with ideas & sometimes kids join clubs that endorse boneheadedly wrong ideas,” he posted on X. His comments were met with quick backlash.

It’s something worth monitoring, both as a foreign policy issue and as a controversy that could make DeSantis and Ramaswamy talk, albeit begrudgingly, about their time in college.

Read more from Hanna: The disturbing rise of antisemitism on elite U.S. campuses

Poll pulse

A new CNN poll shows Americans feel deep sympathy for the Israeli people — but they’re mixed about whether they trust President Joe Biden to make the right decisions relating to the Israel-Hamas war.

According to the poll, 71% of Americans say they feel a lot of sympathy for the Israeli people over the attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7. Eighty-four percent express at least some sympathy for both Israeli and Palestinian people as they face ongoing fighting.

But just 47% say they have at least a moderate amount of trust in Biden to make the right decisions — though that is up from the 42% who said the same after Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022.

What I’m reading

Between Afghanistan, Ukraine and Israel, the Biden administration has dealt with severe international conflict with more consistency than any first-term presidency in recent memory. As I noted in my last newsletter, foreign policy rarely decides elections. But nothing about the 2024 race seems to be routine, and the war in Israel is now making Biden prove his pitch that he is, in fact, a more stable international operator than his predecessor. The Israeli Crisis Is Testing Biden’s Core Foreign-Policy Claim (Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic)

Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley continue to battle for the No. 2 spot in the GOP field, according to the newest FEC funding filings. A surprise revelation: Larry Elder, who’s made little waves nationally, continues to bring in cash. Biden Tops Trump, and Other Takeaways From Latest 2024 Campaign Fundraising (Ken Thomas and Alex Leary, The Wall Street Journal)

Instead of Trump-Biden in 2020, we could’ve seen Trump versus Biden — versus Oprah/Mitt. That’s according to a new revelation from McKay Coppins’ forthcoming biography of Sen. Mitt Romney, to be released a week from today. Oprah Winfrey reportedly called Romney and pitched him on running for president as her running mate “to save the country.” Oprah pitched a White House run with Mitt Romney, book reveals (Mike Allen, Axios)

Any election-related questions for our Friday Mailbag? Send them my way — onthetrail@deseretnews.com.

See you on the trail.


Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.