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Washington Diary: Why Jewish Republican donors are abandoning Trump

[additional-authors]
September 22, 2016

A. Jews and Trump

It is way too early to tell if and how Donald Trump will impact the long-term relations between Jewish Americans and the GOP. A fascinating account by Eitan Hersh and Brian Schaffner shows that Jewish donors were turned off by Trump, and that their contributions to his campaign are much lower than Jewish contributions to the campaign of Mitt Romney four years ago:

In raw dollars, Jewish donors have already given Clinton about two-thirds the amount they gave to Obama through the whole 2012 cycle. But donations to Trump amount to just 8 percent of what was given to Romney. As a percentage of all contributors, Jews made up 18 percent of Obama’s donors and 7 percent of Romney’s donors in 2012. In 2016, 20 percent of Clinton’s donors appear to be Jewish, compared to 3 percent of Trump’s donors.

What does this mean?

Maybe that Jews are smart and do not invest in a losing candidate – that is to say: they gave to Romney because they thought he had a chance, and they are not giving to Trump because they still think he doesn’t have a chance.

Or maybe that Jews are smart and want to get a better sense of a candidate’s positions before investing in him – Trump is clearly not the most comprehensible candidate, and with no political track record no one knows what he really wants to do.

Or maybe that Jews do not like what Trump does say – that his positions on key issues such as immigration, or the Middle East, are not to their liking.

Or maybe it’s Trump’s associations that Jewish donors are worried about – the authors write: “If Jews perceive that the kinds of people who support Republicans are not like themselves, then they will update their identification with the party.”

I would vote for another option, one that is exemplified by Sheldon Adelson’s decision to be less supportive of Trump and more of the Republican Party. Adelson, in essence, is supporting the old party over the new party. He supports a GOP that is not Trump’s GOP. Maybe because he believes that the old GOP will eventually triumph and that the new GOP is a passing foolhardiness. Maybe because he believes that by supporting the old party he can help steer the ship back to where it was just a few months ago.

The Jews of the Republican Party support the party of Bush and Romney, Rubio and McCain, Paul Ryan and even Rudi Giuliani (the old, pre-Trump, Giuliani). They support the GOP of the vanished status quo. And now, like most of the party – those who have decided to sit this one out (Lindsey Graham), those who have reluctantly accepted the verdict of the voters (Paul Ryan), and even those who have decided to join the Trump wagon (Chris Christie) – they are not sure what party Trump represents. Clearly, his views are not the traditional Republican views of the last twenty years. Clearly, if he takes over the party (not for one cycle of weird elections, but as a permanent feature of GOP life) this might be a different party – and Jewish donors, like all GOP donors, will have to reconsider their support for this new party.

A2. Jews and Trump

Two caveats to my previous point:

1. Trump could prove, with time, that he is much more like the old GOP than his current posture seems to suggest. Campaigning is one thing, governing is quite another. If Trump becomes the next President, and governs like a Republican, then Jewish donors, like all other GOP donors who have abandoned him, could still go back to supporting him.

2. The GOP is not the only player in this field of longing for support. Not to support Trump for one cycle is one thing. Not to support any party is quite another. And if one – a Jewish or a non-Jewish donor – wants to support a party, he needs to weigh the options available to him or her, not the options he’d like to see. In other words: assuming that Jewish donors did not make the decision to abandon the political field, they will eventually have to decide between the candidates of two parties.

B. Terrorism and Trump

Two days ago I tried to convince you that terrorism helps Trump. But Will Saletan argued yesterday, that terrorism does not help Trump. “Some combination of factors – unease about war, distaste for Trump’s reactions, the irrelevance of refugees, and the public’s failure to lose its cool – has limited his ability to capitalize on these incidents. In the wake of this week’s attacks, he’s likely to fail again.”

So, does it, or does it not? There was a big difference between Saletan’s answer and mine because of the question we were answering. Saletan focused on the polls, and on whether there is evidence that Trump makes gains following terror attacks. The answer to this question is no. I was focusing on the positions the two candidates hold, and argued that Trump’s are better suited to appeal to the electorate.

How does one reconcile my argument – Trump has the better case to make – with Saletan’s numbers? That’s easy:

1. I could be just wrong.

2. Trump has a better case to make, but thus far other factors – mainly Clinton’s experience – trump his better case.

3. Trump might not gain immediately after the attacks, but terrorism (and general unrest) is the only reason he is still a competitive candidate. 

C. Israelis and the candidates

Three days ago I also shared with you the findings of an interesting survey by pollster Menachem Lazar about Israelis and the American elections – Americans, you are not supportive enough of Israel! (Or so we ungrateful Israelis seem to think…). This survey showed that Israelis are not satisfied with the level of support they are getting from the US, and that they believe Barack Obama to be the worst President ever for Israel.

But I have more numbers from this survey. Specifically, answers to a somewhat complicated question in which we asked Israelis to tell us which position is closest to their view, with the options being:

1. Both Clinton and Trump are good candidates for Israel.

2. Both Clinton and Trump are not good candidates for Israel.

3. Clinton is good for Israel, and Trump is not good for Israel.

4. Trump is good for Israel, and Clinton is not good for Israel.

5. Both candidates are neither especially good nor especially not good for Israel.

The idea behind this question was to get a somewhat more nuanced picture of Israelis’ view of the two remaining candidates. We already know from another, more pointed question, that 46% of Israelis believe that Trump would be a better President for Israel, while 37% of Israelis say Clinton would be the better President for Israel. But how secure do Israelis feel about this belief, and how confident are they that their judgment is solid? Apparently, they are as convinced as Americans.

That is to say: they might have a preference, but, all in all, they are hardly enthusiastic about Clinton or Trump. Thus, a plurality of them – 31% – chose option 5 as the view closest to their own: Both candidates are neither especially good nor especially not good for Israel. 20% of Israelis believe that both candidates are good for Israel. 15% believe Clinton is good and Trump isn’t while 23% believe Trump is good and Clinton isn’t.

Political differences match the answers exactly as you’d expect: centrist Israelis say neither good nor bad (41%), while the left says Clinton is good and Trump isn’t (43%) and the right says Trump is good and Clinton isn’t (31%).

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