Trump Is at It Again

Trump latest complaint

Jewish politics and power

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1. Complaining about the Jews. Again.

Donald Trump’s presence in Jewish American political life is a fascinating phenomenon. For the majority of American Jews, defined by their liberal values, their commitment to tikkun olam and their loyalty to the Democratic Party, Trump was and still is a manifestation of their worst fears and anxieties—an almost cartoonish depiction of everything they have fought against and vowed to eradicate.

For the minority of politically conservative Jews, who align with the Republican Party and, in many cases, lean toward Orthodox Jewish life, Trump is an evolving political creature, one first regarded with suspicion and at times ridicule, then seen as an effective vehicle for advancing their causes, and eventually embraced as a leader, albeit one whose idiosyncrasies must be acknowledged and forgiven.

There’s also a smaller faction within this group that actually adores Trump. (Special shoutout to the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which will be honoring the former president next week at their annual gala.

None of these Jewish political subgroups was thrilled with Trump’s latest rant about the American Jewish community, a social media post that was seen by most as offensive, by some as threatening and by all as simply inexplicable.

In his post, published on Trump’s own Truth Social media platform, the former president wrote:

“No President has done more for Israel than I have. Somewhat surprisingly, however, our wonderful Evangelicals are far more appreciative of this than the people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the U.S. Those living in Israel, though, are a different story – Highest approval rating in the World, could easily be P.M.! U.S. Jews have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel – Before it is too late!”

The complaint about Jewish Americans not voting for him despite his support for the Israeli government is not new. While in office, Trump issued a similar rant from the Oval Office, claiming in 2019 that Jewish Americans who vote for Democrats are “very disloyal to Israel.” The Jewish community responded with anger and disbelief. Trump ignored them and doubled down, and now he has repeated the claim again.

The latest Trump comment caught Jewish Americans in the midst of the holiday of Sukkot. Still, leaders of major organizations spoke out, with the ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt tweeting in response:

“We don’t need the former president, who curries favor with extremists and antisemites, to lecture us about the U.S.-Israel relationship. It is not about a quid pro quo; it rests on shared values and security interests. This ‘Jewsplaining’ is insulting and disgusting.”

At its core, Jewish anger over Trump’s comments stems from the quiet part, which wasn’t said out loud: the assumption that Jews are somehow loyal to Israel, not to their country, the United States. (And, if you listen to Trump, American Jews aren’t even that good at being loyal to a foreign nation, since they insist on not voting for him, the self-proclaimed best friend Israel had ever had at the White House.)

2. Why now?

As with any political brawl, especially one taking place weeks before election day, all sides play out their expected parts. Trump makes an outrageous comment and doesn’t retract it, Jewish establishment organizations issue harsh responses, Jewish Republicans are suddenly hard to find, and Jewish Democrats cash in with interviews, political ads and rounds of “We told you so.”

But one question remains unanswered: Why now?

Why did Donald Trump, busy with lawsuits, subpoenas and legal proceedings on almost every level, all the while campaigning for candidates who have nothing at all to do with Jewish voters or with the Jewish community, take the time and effort to vent his grievances about Jewish voters?

Perhaps, as Ron Kampeas, the Washington, DC, bureau chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, suggested, Trump may have been prompted by his upcoming recognition by the ZOA.  

It could also be just an election season thing. Trump, who views the upcoming midterms as a referendum on his leadership of the Republican Party, is in full election mode and is fighting on all fronts, including against Jewish voters whose lack of support is hardly relevant in this cycle but still stands out.

Or the timing could simply be random. As seen many times during his presidency, Donald Trump doesn’t always follow a specific agenda or news cycle. He sets them.

3. The numbers

Just how badly has Trump done with Jewish voters?

Not all that terribly—for a Republican candidate, that is.

In 2016, 24 percent of Jewish votes went to Trump. A little less than his predecessor Mitt Romney (30 percent) and slightly more than 2008 Republican candidate John McCain (22 percent). In 2020 he was up to 30 percent..

There’s nothing special here; Jewish Americans vote Democratic. At best, Republicans make it to the upper 30s (Reagan in 1980 with a record 39 percent of Jewish votes), and at worst they get close to single digits (Bush Sr. in 1992 with 11 percent.)

However, that 30 percent figure Trump got in 2020 may have been his peak. A survey of Jewish Americans conducted in April found that 77 percent of American Jews view Trump unfavorably.

(And here are the necessary caveats: Polling Jewish Americans is hard, so it’s important to take all results with a grain of salt. Tiny differences don’t necessarily mean much. And, needless to say, Jewish votes matter very little in presidential races, despite everything you might have heard about Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.)

4. Could Trump get elected in Israel?

In his post, the former president noted—in jest, of course—his huge popularity in Israel, stating that in Israel he enjoys, “Highest approval rating in the World, could easily be P.M.”

Is that true?

Yes, Trump remains very popular in Israel, and has the appreciation of many in the political and policy establishments, primarily, but not only, from those ideologically close to the Likud Party and to the settler communities.

But no, he could never be prime minister. Just imagine Trump navigating the art of coalition building, or leading in a political system in which the parliament can overthrow him at any given moment. It would never work. (And he’s not Jewish, so it’s kind of hard to see Trump making aliyah.)

5. In other news: It’s election time

Americans are going to the polls November 8.

Worried about your midterm choices?         

Here’s AIPAC’s endorsement list.

And here’s J Street’s.

Israelis will vote, for the fifth time in three years, on November 1.

It’s expected to be another nail-biter, with polls showing that neither Netanyahu and his right-wing bloc nor Lapid with his centrist-left partners will end up with a clear path to building a stable coalition. But a lot can happen in Israeli politics in two weeks, so stay tuned.

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