December 17, 2018

The danger of ignoring Donald Trump

Each presidential election, Republicans mount a campaign to increase their share of Jewish voters, who are, for the most part, a stiff-necked bunch perennially insisting on voting Democratic. This year, the effort is more difficult than ever because of their presumed nominee, Donald Trump.

It’s beyond me why anyone, Jewish or not, would vote for Trump. He is a shallow-minded loudmouth, an egomaniac and a public policy ignoramus. He’s a dangerous authoritarian. He caters to racists with his rants against Muslims and Latinos and his proposed wall at the Mexican border.

It’s tempting for Jewish Democrats, who lean toward the liberal, to write off Trump. That would be a mistake.

While Trump himself may not be anti Semitic, his rhetoric feeds the rhetoric of anti-Semites. He doesn’t attack Jews. His daughter converted and is married to a Jewish real-estate heir. But the fact that he advocates banning members of a religious group — Muslims — from immigrating here, and his desire to deport 11 million members of an ethnic group — Latinos — legitimizes the raging of America’s hate mongers.

This has been the subject of many news stories and commentaries. 

“I find it difficult to see how some Jewish voters don’t recognize the danger in someone like this,” Aaron Friedberg, a former adviser to ex-Vice President Dick Cheney and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, told Chris Pomorski of the Tablet website. “If you pay attention not so much to what he’s saying, but to the people and attitudes that he’s brought to the surface — I think there’s a lot of racism and anti-Semitism there.”

Despite the negatives, I’ve been thinking about the possibility that some Jews will vote for Trump, It’s a possibility that should be tracked as the presidential campaign develops.

Trump’s comments haven’t stopped casino mogul Sheldon Adelson from promising to give Trump at least $100 million, the Associated Press reported. Adelson reportedly sent an email to more than 50 Jewish Republican leaders saying he had met with Trump and is “specifically convinced he will be a tremendous president when it comes to the safety and security of Israel.”  

Adelson is a board member and major financial supporter of the Republican Jewish Coalition, some of whose leaders had supported other GOP presidential candidates. Trump is also planning to visit Israel at Adelson’s behest. In the end, the coalition may line up behind Trump.

There’s been little or no polling on Jewish support for Trump. And election results are inconclusive, even from the April 19 primary in New York, the state with the nation’s largest Jewish population. 

“For a people obsessed with numbers, the Jews have relatively scant concrete data about how, exactly, the Jews voted … ” JTA reported. But JTA found at least some support for Trump in neighborhoods with large Jewish populations.  For example, in a Brooklyn and West Side Manhattan congressional district known as the most Jewish district in the country, Trump got a substantial number of votes in the Republican primary. It’s not known how many of those voters were Jewish. But given the large Jewish population in the district, I assume some of them were Jews.

Despite the liberal leanings of most Jews, there is a strong strain of conservatism, as well, which could translate to support for Trump in the November election.

The Pew Research Center, which conducted an epic study of American Jewry in 2013 and updated it in 2015, has found strong conservative Republican leanings among Orthodox Jews.

“As of mid-2013, 57 percent of Orthodox Jews identified with the Republican Party or said they leaned toward the GOP,” Pew reported. “Orthodox Jews also tend to express more conservative views on issues such as homosexuality and the size of government; that is, they are more likely than other Jews to say that homosexuality should be discouraged and that they prefer a smaller government with fewer services to a bigger government with more services.”

In March, while there was still a Republican contest, Olivia Becker reported on the Vice website, “According to many Hasidic voters and political commentators, Trump has sparked an undeniable interest in parts of this culturally isolated world.” 

She goes on to quote Jacob Kornbluh of TRIBE Media’s Jewish Insider website on politics as saying there is “no question support for Trump is widespread” within the Chasidic community. Kornbluh said most Chasidic voters he’s spoken with say they plan to support Trump, although he also found support for then-candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. 

Although Jews constitute only about 2 percent of the American population, their consistently high turnout gives them clout beyond their numbers. This is particularly true in the four states with the largest number of Jews — New York, California, Florida and New Jersey. These states account for 127 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

None of this information is conclusive. But for Jews opposed to Trump, it’s something to think about, a warning sign to those who dismiss him.

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for The Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).