President Trump is making a play for the Jews. And like many Republicans before him, he seems to think that this time, American Jews will finally abandon their loyalty to the Democratic Party and join the GOP. It’s an old prediction, and it always turns out to be wrong.
But, this time, it’s more wrong than ever. If Trump wants to know why Jews won’t become Republicans, he should look in a mirror.
He’s giving it a shot, however. First, he said in response to the controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) tweets about the making of U.S. policy toward Israel that Democrats “have become an anti-Jewish party.” He then told a group of Republican donors, “The Democrats hate Jewish people.”
And on Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted this:
Naturally, Trump got this from a segment on “Fox & Friends.” Elizabeth Pipko, the woman Trump refers to, is, according to her bio page, an “international model, Trump 2016 campaign staffer, poet, patriot, and fiercely proud millennial Jew.” Pipko is the spokesperson for Jexodus, which you’ll be surprised to learn is actually not a group of ex-Democrats, but the creation of a Republican political consultant.
On a superficial level, you might not blame Trump for believing this might be a moment he could win some Jewish support. That is, if like Trump, you have zero understanding of exactly why Jews support Democrats in the first place.
And they do. With the exception of black Protestants, Jews are more likely to be Democrats than any other religious group in the United States, and are more likely to self-identify as liberal than any group at all. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 71 percent of Jewish votes according to exit polls, and in the 2018 midterms, 79 percent of Jews voted for a Democrat for Congress.
Republicans have long thought of this as some kind of delusion for which Jews could be cured — if only they realized how fervently the Republican Party supports Israel, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in particular. And now, Trump has added a new twist, one perfectly appropriate for him. He plainly hopes that if Jews are feeling unsettled or afraid by rising anti-Semitism, then they’ll rush to embrace his authoritarian politics, as he poses as their defender and protector.
What he doesn’t seem to grasp is that the opposite is likely to happen. If Jews feel as though anti-Semitism is a greater threat to their well-being in the United States than it used to be, where are they going to find the solution? The same place they always have: By working for a more inclusive, more understanding, more compassionate, more pluralistic society. In short, everything Trump is against.
American Jews aren’t liberals by accident or out of some collective delusion, but because of a set of values that grows from their history and that gets passed from generation to generation. Just an example: When I was young, my mother would talk often about the many Jews who were active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, sometimes putting themselves at risk to stand with African Americans fighting for their rights. She’d point with pride to Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, the two young Jewish men killed killed alongside James Chaney in Mississippi in 1964 by members of the Ku Klux Klan, to say that this is the liberal legacy of Judaism, that the experience of oppression and exclusion makes Jews sympathize with the oppressed and the excluded. I’m sure mine was not the only family in which that story was told.
That’s not to say there aren’t Jewish conservatives, because there are. But when a politician like Trump comes along, encouraging people to direct all their resentments and anger at immigrants, Jews know that, at other times and in other places, they were the ones that demagogues like him told people to hate.
Jews know exactly who Trump is. They don’t care that his daughter converted to Judaism when she got married (and, really, if there’s a more goyishe Jew than Ivanka Trump, I can’t think of who it might be). They don’t care how many times he accuses Democrats of being the real anti-Semites, or how many times he says, “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”
They know about his history of offensive comments directed toward and about Jews. They know that when he triumphantly tells Christians that now they can say “Merry Christmas” again, he’s telling them that he doesn’t want society to be inclusive and considerate toward religious minorities. They saw how after Trump’s election, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer shouted from a stage, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” and was met by Nazi salutes. They watched Trump respond to a rally of neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, at which one young woman was killed, by saying there were “very fine people on both sides.”
And they saw the dramatic upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents large and small once Trump became president, as though every hateful bigot in the United States looked at his victory and decided they had permission to stop hiding their beliefs. To paraphrase Andrew Gillum, Trump may not be an anti-Semite, but all the anti-Semites think he’s an anti-Semite.
In short, Jews will not be abandoning their longstanding ideological and partisan home in the Democratic Party in order to jump over to a party that opposes everything they believe in, and that has cast its lot with a president who has built his political career on encouraging voters to be as hostile as possible to those they think are not like them. Jews are smart enough to know that Trump is not the solution to their problem. He is the problem.
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