January 16, 2019

Why Jews don’t want Trump

Donald Trump must be very powerful because he’s done something no one has managed to do since Moses: He’s united the Jews.

The problem for him: He’s united them against Donald Trump.

Just before Trump decided to run for president, the American Jewish world was clawing at itself like two cats in a bag. The debate over the Iran nuclear deal didn’t exactly divide American Jews — most were for it — but the arguments it created went deep. The rhetoric was apocalyptic.

There have been rifts, too, over President Barack Obama’s policies toward Israel and the Middle East. In the 2012 election, Obama’s Jewish vote dropped by almost 10 percent, from 78 percent to 69 percent, and Republican Jews were looking forward to putting the Jewish vote even more in play in 2016.

Then came Trump. In a sense, he’s the anti-Moses: He speaks, and American Jews run the hell away. But how nice that we have finally found something to do all together.

Almost all together. There are a few in the American Jewish community who will still support Trump, beyond those on his payroll or directly related to him. They either like him or they hate Hillary Clinton even more than Trump.

For eight years of Obama’s presidency, these same people gilded their Facebook pages with the essays and opinions of the very same conservative thought leaders who are now, largely, #NeverTrump. 

During the Iran debate, one reader constantly sent me anti-deal columns by Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens (just in case I hadn’t read them, which I always had). Now that Stephens is leading the charge against Trump, I get to send that reader Bret Stephens’ tweets and columns.

“Tim Kaine is normal, decent, intelligent. Quick, let’s demonize him,” Stephens tweeted last week. And when Klansman David Duke weighed in on Trump’s convention speech, saying, “Couldn’t have said it better,” Stephens retweeted it with the message, “Need we say more?”

When you follow the reactions to Stephens’ anti-Trump tweets, you find they quickly become a cesspool of anti-Semitism. This was the case with conservative Jewish columnist Bethany Mandel, who received so many anti-Semitic threats that she went out and bought a gun for personal protection. (When New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wrote a piece on Trump’s racist past, he received the same anti-Semitic attacks. The fact that he’s not Jewish didn’t inhibit the zealous Trump-ites a bit.)

After years of right-versus-left fighting in the Jewish world, this moment has the ring of prophecy. The lion shall lie down with the lamb, and Peter Beinart with Bret Stephens, and Jeffrey Goldberg with Bill Kristol, and Jennifer Rubin with Laura Rozen. All these Jewish columnists, not long ago at each other’s throats, are in each other’s corners.

The rallying cry went out from Jennifer Rubin, before turning her firepower full force against Trump.

“The dividing line is now crystal clear,” she wrote in The Washington Post in May. “To one side stands an angry nativist mob and to the other men and women of decent character and honorable purpose. Choose sides. You cannot be in both camps. And if you claim to be bound by ‘party loyalty’ to support Trump, there will be scores who will refuse to be in the same party.”

Who else? Ben Shapiro; David Frum; Jamie Weinstein, senior editor for the conservative Daily Caller website; John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine; nationally syndicated talk show host Mark Levin; Elliott Abrams, a former George W. Bush adviser and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Jeff Jacoby, a conservative columnist for the Boston Globe, who told the Jewish Journal that Trump “undermines basically everything that conservatives especially, and Republicans generally, have said they stand for.”

It’s one thing for liberals and Democrats to oppose Trump. But the conservatives above are going against their natural constituencies and readerships. They are doing tweet-to-tweet combat with people who revered them, bought subscriptions to read them, tuned in to their shows. But when considering the alternative — the consequences of not speaking up before it is too late — they are willing to pay the price.

There are a lot of reasons they cite for taking a tough stand: Trump’s coarseness, xenophobia, the way his campaign gives cover to anti-Semites and racists, not to mention his utter lack of seriousness when it comes to policy, and — let’s not kid ourselves — the fact that Trump is not conservative enough. 

But if you want to find an even deeper reason, it was fully on display in Trump’s convention acceptance speech: pessimism. For Trump, pessimism is policy. America is a dark, dangerous place, he was saying, and “leave it to me” to fix it. 

The vast majority of American Jews aren’t buying the pitch. Not just because we’ve heard it from a long line of dangerous delusional demagogues throughout history, but because we are essentially a hopeful people. I know that might sound strange considering our comedy is rooted in a neurotic sense of imminent disaster, but it’s true. The secret to our survival is that we are able to move beyond panic to pragmatism, from fear to hope. 

It’s why Ronald Reagan got the largest percentage of the Jewish vote of any Republican in modern history. And it’s why Trump — mark my words — will get the lowest.

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.