Breitbart, the right-wing Web site that has served as a cheering section for Donald Trump’s campaign (even going so far as to smear its own reporter Michele Fields who accused Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski of manhandling her), created a firestorm in social media this morning with this headline: “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew.” (I do not link the piece so as not to give Breitbart the clicks it desperately seeks.) The column attacking Kristol for helping to spearhead a third candidate effort is another in a long line of Breitbart’s tortured defenses of Trump’s scandals and rhetoric. (This one even attempts to excuse Trump’s citation of the National Enquirer for the loony accusation Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was connected to the JFK assassination).
I asked the Trump campaign for comment on the piece, and also its view as to why so many commenters on blogs and supporters of Trump in social media openly express white nationalist and/or anti-Semitic views. No candidate is responsible for all its supporters, but Trump’s big following among such groups (and the likes of David Duke) point to degree to which his anti-immigrant remarks and radical policies, such as his ban on all Muslims, resonate with racists.
The Breitbart incident and the loud presence of anti-Semites among his social media following add to the perception that even among Republicans, Trump’s support in the Jewish community will sink dramatically after Republicans made some gains in 2012. At a candidates’ forum last year Trump raised eyebrows and incredulous stares at the Republican Jewish Coalition when he resorted to a series of anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as sharp negotiators. There he accused the group of not wanting to support him because he did not want their donations (back when he was self-funding his campaign).
His defenders counter that Trump’s daughter converted to Judaism (and is raising her children as Jews) and that Trump has expressed strong support for Israel (as he did in his teleprompted speech at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee gathering earlier this year). They have had less success explaining away Trump’s argument the U.S. should be “neutral” in Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians.
Trump’s problems with Jewish voters extend to the RJC, which nominally endorsed him, and is focusing on down-ballot races. (RJC bigwig Sheldon Adelson personally is backing Trump, but his decision carries little weight with RJC big donors, many of whom backed other candidates in the election and continue to be exceptionally critical of Trump.) In emails and conversations with Right Turn, longtime RJC members and supporters have expressed their horror at the rise of Trump and its implications for GOP support in the Jewish community.
To some degree Trump’s problem with Jewish voters is not unlike his problem with women, Hispanics, African Americans, college-educated voters and the chunk of the GOP that voted for other candidates. Many voters, regardless of religion, object to his bigoted and misogynistic language, extreme positions, ignorance on policy issues and penchant for lying about matters large and small.
Two other factors aggravate Trump’s standing with Jewish voters. First, Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, his mass rallies evoking a cult of personality (complete with oath-taking), threats to punish the media and infatuation with Vladimir Putin and other international strongmen evoke strong images in the minds of many Jewish voters of the European fascist movements of the 1930’s and, more recently, South American tin pot dictators. Trump’s nativism and xenophobia make him toxic with a good deal of the American Jewish community for whom such sentiments have invariably been associated with governments hostile to Jews.
Second, a large portion of pro-Israel voters of both parties (accurately or not) view Hillary Clinton as an improvement over President Obama on Israel. She’s gone out of her way to challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on his false accusations about Israel’s conduct during the Gaza War and to denounce the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. She’s at least rhetorically taken a harder line on Iran and expressed a desire for more cordial relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Given that Jewish voters usually vote overwhelmingly Democratic, she is likely to regain any lost ground Democrats suffered among Jewish voters during the Obama era.
In sum, Breitbart’s headline reflects the implosion of that outlet’s journalistic reputation and confirms suspicions that Trump is welcoming to bigoted supporters. Moreover, it reminds us that as Trump becomes synonymous with the GOP, the Republican Party as a whole risks not only a lopsided defeat but also permanent alienation from the increasingly diverse electorate. There is a price to be paid for welcoming a noxious figure like Trump.
UPDATE: A Trump spokeswoman emails: “Mr. Trump has disavowed, and will continue to disavow, these [anti-Semitic and racist] groups and individuals. Mr. Trump and the campaign are not associated in any way and condemn all messages of hate. There has been no greater friend to Israel than Mr. Trump.”