At a recent board meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, the big donors and high-powered operatives in the room went around the table to make sure they had someone supporting each potential Republican nominee.
Jeb Bush backers were easy to find. Supporters of Marco Rubio, too, were plentiful. Ted Cruz had friends there, as did Scott Walker, and even George Pataki and Lindsey Graham. The Republican Jewish elite have spread themselves wide across the GOP firmament.
Obviously it’s a good strategy to cultivate all the possibilities, just as the Israel Lobby has traditionally cultivated both sides of the aisle.
Yet Donald Trump, who has topped 20% to lead all other Republicans in recent presidential primary polls, and who also leads the pack in both Iowa and New Hampshire, is a different story. An RJC member who was present at the board meeting said he could not recall if Trump had backers there. What is clear is that, despite his surge in the polls, the anti-immigration hard-liner has strikingly little support among prominent Republican Jewish donors, activists and consultants.
Many Republican Jewish leaders remain unwilling to speak about Trump. …
Jewish Republicans’ critiques of Trump, when they can be convinced to air them, fall into two categories. Most echo the concerns of the Republican establishment, deriding the real estate developer and former reality show star who is advocating selective tax increases on the wealthy as unserious. They worry that he will drive away nontraditional Republican voters. Others, however, have deeper concerns.
Right. A tax on hedge fund profits, as Trump proposes, would be a serious blow to the RJC.
“There are a lot of folks who are, to be charitable, into white identity politics, and to be uncharitable are outright racists, who are supporting Trump,” said Nathan Wurtzel, a Republican political consultant and principal at The Catalyst Group, who is Jewish. “It’s very off-putting and disturbing.”
The fact is that, although the media has trumpeted support for Trump among people whose politics is explicitly colored by their White identity, I very much doubt that a survey of White Trump supporters would reveal that they are a very significant percentage. At best, but importantly, many of his White supporters may well be implicitly White. Certainly Trump’s immigration policies should resonate with Whites, but, again, how many Trump supporters are going to explicitly state that they want to keep a White America? What’s going on here is that these Jewish activists are horrified by a candidate whose policies would slow down the dispossession of White America.
Trump’s pundit-defying rise has highlighted the distance between the Republican Party’s growing Jewish caucus and some parts of its base. That’s an unlikely role for Trump, who has perhaps the most personal ties to the Jewish community of any Republican candidate: His daughter Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism in 2009, and Trump has lived his life in the heavily Jewish milieu of upper-class Manhattan. “Not only does he have a daughter who is… Shabbat observant, but he’s also a brash, outspoken real estate magnate,” said Jeff Ballabon, a Jewish Republican activist. “In some sense he seems more like an insider than an outsider to our culture.”
One wonders if being an insider to that upper-class Jewish culture would make Trump more aware of how their attitudes are not motivated by what is good for the great majority of Americans, particularly White Americans, thus making Trump more attuned to populist policies on immigration and trade.
Republican Jewish operatives have worked hard in recent decades to pave inroads into the party for Jewish voters, and to jack up Jewish support for Republican candidates. To that end, the RJC has cultivated candidates like Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Senate in 2012, and former Hawaii governor Linda Lingle, who now serves on the group’s board. Recent polls show that those efforts could be working: A January Gallup report found that only 61% of American Jews called themselves Democrats in 2014, down from 71% in 2008. The percentage of Americans at large who call themselves Democrats has fallen only seven points over the same period.
Jewish Republicans, however, don’t look quite like other Republicans. Many RJC board members are pro-choice and support same-sex marriage, which puts them at a distance from much of the party. And while some Jewish Republicans share wholeheartedly in the party’s conservative ideals, the RJC and its allies have also been working to attract Jewish moderates and liberals, who simply believe the Democrats have been unfriendly to Israel. Some worry that it’s these Jewish supporters who could be put off by Trump.
“I think Trump could make the Republican party look unattractive to people who are more moderate in nature, to the extent the party is made to look more unwelcoming,” Wurtzel said.
What these Jewish voters want is a Republican Party that is just as far left as the Democrats on social policy but is more fanatical in its support for Israel. Obama’s battles with the Israel Lobby are clearly having an effect on Jewish voting patterns. But there are no noticeable changes in Jewish attitudes on domestic policy, particularly the critical issue of immigration.
The problem with Trump for these Republican Jewish activists isn’t necessarily Trump’s positions, to the extent that they exist [!], on top-line issues for Jewish voters. Republican Jewish elites see Trump as a hawkish supporter of Israel, like nearly all other members of the Republican primary field. In a September 3 interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump said he would support unilateral action by Israel against Iran, and called Benjamin Netanyahu “a friend.”
Instead, Trump is seen as a threat to the vision of a bigger, more inclusive GOP, which many leading Republican Jews have advocated.
“In order for us to become a party [of anyone] other than white men, we need to be reaching out,” Norm Coleman, a former senator from Minnesota, told the Forward. Coleman, an RJC board member who is supporting Graham’s primary bid, said, “I think Trump’s language and perspective is a long-term negative in terms of building the party.”
A Gallup poll released in late August showed that Hispanics have exceptionally negativeopinions about Trump, while their opinions about the rest of the Republican candidates range from mildly positive to slightly negative.
Following Mitt Romney’s decisive defeat in 2012, RJC board member Fleischer and a handful of other major party figures collaborated on a report to the Republican National Committee. The report argued, in part, that the GOP needed to reach out to growing ethnic minority groups, particularly Hispanics, to remain competitive amid changing national demographics. While Bush has built those appeals into the bedrock of his campaign, Trump appears to be crumpling such hopes and throwing them back in the face of the party establishment. Trump has gotten into a shouting match with a popular Univision anchor, doubled-down on his right to be offensive toward women, and continually hyped a purported violent threat posed by undocumented immigrants.
It should come as no surprise that Jewish donors have pushed the Jeb Bush approach, and I strongly suspect that Jeb is their preferred candidate overall. The RJC is just one aspect of the influence of Jews on the Republican Party. For the last 35 years or so, the neocons have been pushing the Party in the same direction — and yes, neoconservatism is a Jewish movement. The push to the left therefore has not just been the donors, but the intellectuals at elite academic institutions, the op-ed writers with access to the elite media, the defense policy wonks, much of the pro-Israel activist infrastructure, the think tanks, etc. — a full court press. Again, I can’t help quoting Sam Francis on the effects of the neocons elbowing out traditional Republican conservatives beginning in the 1980s:
There are countless stories of how neoconservatives have succeeded in entering conservative institutions, forcing out or demoting traditional conservatives, and changing the positions and philosophy of such institutions in neoconservative directions. … Writers like M. E. Bradford, Joseph Sobran, Pat Buchanan, and Russell Kirk, and institutions like Chronicles, the Rockford Institute, the Philadelphia Society, and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute have been among the most respected and distinguished names in American conservatism. The dedication of their neoconservative enemies to driving them out of the movement they have taken over and demonizing them as marginal and dangerous figures has no legitimate basis in reality. It is clear evidence of the ulterior aspirations of those behind neoconservatism to dominate and subvert American conservatism from its original purposes and agenda and turn it to other purposes.…
What neoconservatives really dislike about their “allies” among traditional conservatives is simply the fact that the conservatives are conservatives at all—that they support “this notion of a Christian civilization,” as Midge Decter put it, that they oppose mass immigration, that they criticize Martin Luther King and reject the racial dispossession of white Western culture, that they support or approve of Joe McCarthy, that they entertain doubts or strong disagreement over American foreign policy in the Middle East, that they oppose reckless involvement in foreign wars and foreign entanglements, and that, in company with the Founding Fathers of the United States, they reject the concept of a pure democracy and the belief that the United States is or should evolve toward it.
The concerns of the contemporary RJC are exactly the same concerns motivating the neocons since their rise to power in the Reagan Administration: support for Israel combined with displacement of White Christian civilization, but to do the latter sotto voce and with a conservative veneer.
In the process, Trump has also drawn the backing of an enthusiastic contingent of white nationalists. “You’ll see it a lot on the Internet,” said Wurtzel, who is active on Twitter. In a New Yorker article published in late August, writer Evan Osnos quoted Richard Spencer, head of a white nationalist think tank, saying that Trump embodies “an unconscious vision that white people have — that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country.”
Clearly Richard Spencer is asserting that Trump voters are motivated by implicit Whiteness, a view with which I wholeheartedly agree.
… Republican Jewish activists say they get the roots of Trump’s appeal. “I’m sympathetic to people out there who are angry, upset,” Wurtzel said. “I understand the frustration, I understand the anger.” What’s left is for them and their allies to harness those feelings for their own candidates.
I really doubt that the RJC people “get” why so many Whites are angry. Or else they do understand but are going to do their best to channel White anxiety about the future into things like concern for tax cuts, small government, or the danger of an imminent nuclear attack on the U.S. by Iran— the usual Republican talking points. Anything but stoke the fires of White anger over their displacement.
Francis, S. (2004). The neoconservative subversion. In B. Nelson (ed.), “Neoconservatism.” Occasional Papers of the Conservative Citizens’ Foundation, Issue Number Six, 6–12. St. Louis: Conservative Citizens’ Foundation.