2016 Election Blog #20: The Ten Questions Jewish Voters Are Asking

May 31, 2016

As I move around the country discussing the 2016 Presidential Campaign, concerned American Jewish voters are posing a series of questions, issues for the most part that touch other citizens as well.

What about Trump?  When questions come up about Donald Trump they often encompass such issues as people’s negative perception of him and his stated views; concerns over some of those individuals and groups who are supporting him (i.e. the extreme right, white supremacists, and neo-Nazi type groups); and finally, his lack of experience to serve in the nation’s top public office.

Is he a fascist? How will world leaders respond to him, and what will they think of Americans, should he win? These are additional concerns raised by my audiences.  While I don’t believe that he is a fascist, he has sadly not disavowed the support of groups or individuals who endorse views contrary to American values and culture. Clearly, his candidacy gives rise and license to others who may hold extremist views concerning the pluralistic character of the society and the rights of citizens to exercise their freedoms.

Trump represents a viewpoint that challenges mainstream political thinking and as such is seen as threatening to many centrist voters. Whether he wins or not, his candidacy will have a profound impact on American politics and the future of the political discourse in this nation.

Has this campaign been the most angry/hate-filled in American history?
While on the surface this would appear to be a particularly ugly campaign season, American politics are filled with examples of “dirty politics”.  The degree of media coverage and the broad range of social networking have elevated these bitter conversations. The impact of the political discourse has clearly turned off many folks.  Some analysts are projecting a smaller turnout in part based on the public’s disconnect from the bitterness of the campaign and the lack of civility portrayed the by some candidates. Yes, it is an ugly campaign but sadly it fits into the fold of other political battles in this country where candidates have attempted to discredit and marginalize their opponents.

Are you concerned about the levels of anti-Semitism?  Indeed, there are many examples in the 2016 campaign of anti-Semitic rhetoric.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified a significant number of extremist groups who have played off Donald Trump’s comments directed against Muslims and Latinos, for example.  In particular, Jewish defense agencies have monitored a number of anti-Semitic comments. The tenor of the campaign has certainly contributed to a heightened concern over such statements. 

There is increasing evidence as seen recently in Europe of the rise of anti-Semitic rhetoric among politicians. One can only hope that such patterns will not emerge within the American political landscape.

Will Bernie Sanders’ push to influence the Democratic Platform position on Israel be destructive to the long term interests of the Party to retain Jewish supporters? Indeed, this could happen. Yet, one must recall that Party Platforms are generally seen as meaningless, once campaigns are completed.  In 2012, the Democrats would take the Israel platform to the convention floor in order to ensure a pro-Israel statement on the status of Jerusalem.  Mr. Sanders’ platform committee appointments are indeed troubling to many pro-Israel advocates.

Will Bernie’s voters show up for Hillary?  Senator Sanders will need to deliver his voters, as Hillary  Clinton will be unable on her own to attract these folks.  If the Senator is unwilling to actively work on her behalf, this could represent a serious problem for the Clinton campaign in November.  In turn, pro-Israel Democrats are concerned over the Sanders’ campaigns push to create a more evenhanded statement on the Palestinian-Israel issue. 

The long term fallout of the Sanders’ position on the Israel-Palestinian question may well result in future Democratic candidates following the Sanders’ policy line on the Middle East, seeking to break the longstanding bipartisan support for the State of Israel that has defined both sides of the isle.

Are we likely to see a third party candidate?  Indeed, for a considerable period of time there was serious speculation of a third candidate but now that appears to be set aside, in part linked to the regulations of various states in placing names on the fall ballot.

Where is Republican Jewish money in this election?  Indeed, some of the traditional Republican funders have aligned with the Trump campaign, yet a significant number, including the influential neo-conservative Jewish leadership has yet to commit.  Some Jewish Republicans are talking about sitting “this one out” and a few are considering supporting Hillary Clinton, as the “lesser of two evils!”

With her high “unfavorable” ratings, can Hillary win this election? Hillary should be in a strong position to win in November.  Three factors however could derail her chances: if she is indicted; if there is another terrorist attack on American soil; and if Bernie Sanders does not rally his supporters to embrace her campaign. Her victory would appear to have less to do with Donald Trump than her own political fortunes.

How important will the Vice Presidential selections be in the 2016 campaign? The selection of vice presidential nominees will be important to both candidates, and more directly in the case of Donald Trump.  A mainstream Republican figure will certainly serve his candidacy particularly well, possibly winning back some disaffected GOP voters. For Mrs. Clinton securing a left of center Democrat may galvanize some of Bernie’s supporters. In general, VP’s are not particularly determinative of the campaign’s outcome; yet, in particular races these selections make the difference in winning or losing an election! For 2016, these choices would seem to be important!

Where is the Jewish vote?  Why are Jews and Israel so highly profiled in this campaign? As in the past, Jews will remain locked into the Democratic Party. In fact, unless any of the above scenarios should occur, Hillary may produce a record level of Jewish support, including necessary campaign funding! Timing will be critical in this race, as events seem to be constantly changing the political fortunes of this year’s candidates.

The reason for such a high profile status for Israel, Jews vote and give significant amounts of money to their candidates.  But keep in mind, for many American Jewish voters, Israel is not necessarily high on their political radar. In survey after survey, American Jews, like other Americans, often come to the ballot box with an array of  policy concerns.

Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball campus of HUC-JIR, Los Angeles. His writings can be found on his website:

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