One thing I never thought I would ever have to do in America was figure out, by virtue of being born and raised in the Jewish faith, whether I am “uniformed” or “disloyal” or both. But there is no doubt I am one of the people Donald Trump has been referring to this week. Though a strong supporter of Israel having been there four times (dare I say more than Trump has), I disagree with many of Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies. I believe such challenges to the status quo make me neither un-American nor anti-Israel. But according to the self-proclaimed “chosen one,” I am now a traitor to my own people. Maybe I should ask a Trump supporter if I can borrow his “Proud to be a Deplorable” t-shirt.
Trump’s comments have been rightfully denounced by civil rights organizations (e.g. ADL and NAACP), the mainstream media and others with two exceptions, Republican in Congress and white Evangelical leaders such as Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. But their selective support for religious freedom is a story for another day. Among the concerns raised is whether Trump’s rhetoric will trigger retaliation from his most extreme followers ala Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh or El Paso. However, being a student of political science versus a theologian or psychologist, I am less concerned about the present than the near future.
So, let’s go to the video tape or, in this case, the CNN exit poll. In 2016, the Jewish vote made up three percent of total ballots cast. Of those who went to the polls, 71 percent voted for Hillary Clinton, 23 percent for Trump and six percent for other candidates. Did they write-in Netanyahu? After all, in an April 2019 address to the Republic Jewish Coalition, Trump referred to the Israel leader as “your prime minister.”
Fast forward to 2018 and according to CNN, the Jewish vote split 79 percent to 17 percent in favor of Democratic congressional candidates. It is hard to make a statistical case based on two elections, but the trend is unmistakable. Clearly the assault on a Pittsburgh synagogue carried out by someone echoing Trump conspiracy theories about Jews funding illegal immigrants two weeks before the election did not help Republicans. As a result, Jewish support for Democrats was higher than any other religious denomination including non-believers with a 70 percent pro-Democratic vote (which as a devout agnostic, I also find hard to believe).
From a counter-intuitive perspective, while I share others’ concerns, the “stable genius” occupying the Oval Office must realize that more violence against Jewish targets will push this demographic’s anti-Trump vote even higher. The Jewish share of the population in three states Trump must win to reach 270 electoral votes rank in the top 13–Florida (3.0 percent), Pennsylvania (2.3 percent) and Ohio (1.3 percent). An energized anti-Trump Jewish electorate could mean an inside straight (as was the case in 2016) will not be enough. His campaign will need a royal straight flush to stay in power.
Which brings me to the near future. Imagine exit polling during the 2020 election shows the difference in battleground states was a greater deterioration of Trump support among Jewish voters. What if Jewish turnout increases by half a percent from 2016 and the partisan split is 85 percent for the Democratic candidate and 13 for Trump? We already know Trump will blame everyone but himself for the defeat. But so will the all-right media and that is where the true danger lies.
Breitbart news and the Daily Stormer will surely claim Jewish money and an international Zionist cabal brought Trump down. I can already hear Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson bemoaning the fact “Jews turned their backs on Trump after he did so much for Israel.” And how will their audience receive this message? We know many already feel their situations or misfortunes are the fault of “the others.” How will some react if they believe those same forces of evil have deprived them of the one person in American politics who, on a national stage, vocally agreed with them?
That is why a counter-intuitive view of the next presidential election is critical. As much as I and many others think a second Trump term, unencumbered by the need to run for re-election, will be a disaster, a Trump defeat could be even worse. That is why silent Republican leaders must speak up now. If post-Trump, radical right domestic terrorists, deprived of their #1 spokesperson, still believe their cause is just, the past three years may be looked back on as “the good old days.”
For what it’s worth.