What would a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump presidency mean for American Jews—and the issues they care about?
Each candidate has left a trail of hints, promises and commitments. But as Election Day approaches, voters want to know more about what will change—what will really change—after Jan. 20, 2017. What will be the future of Middle East policy? What role will the Jewish community play in American politics? Moment asked two experts—one Democrat and one Republican—to weigh in. Tevi Troy is a former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services and White House aide in the George W. Bush administration, and William Galston is a former domestic policy adviser in the Bill Clinton administration. Based on what we know so far, they discussed each candidate’s beliefs, plans, histories, records and public statements.
In addition to outside experts, Moment also reached out to staffers from both campaigns. Read the full interviews with Laura Rosenberger, from the Clinton campaign, and David Friedman, from the Trump campaign, here.
Interview with William Galston
In a Clinton presidency, how might our policies toward Israel change?
I think that there has been a very broad continuity of American foreign policy toward Israel—with ups and downs over the years, to be sure—and many different administrations have had spikes of conflict with particular Israeli governments and policies. But overall, I think our policy has been one of sustained support, sustained commitment to the idea of a qualitative Israeli military edge. We’ve never budged from that, and I would be very surprised if a Clinton administration diverted from that at all. I think Hillary Clinton is well aware of the fact that high-decibel public conflicts between the United States and Israel serve the interests neither of the United States nor of Israel. And I think that she’ll work pretty hard to avoid them.
There will be differences of opinion, I’m sure. We are, after all, two sovereign nations—and no two sovereign nations, however close they are, have identical interests. And certainly at the height of the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, there were deep disagreements in policy, culminating in Dwight Eisenhower’s famous ultimatum to the British to stand down from their Suez adventure. In sum, I expect Secretary Clinton to continue the long-standing policy of support for Israel’s existence, and certainly for Israel’s qualitative military edge over any potential adversary or coalition of adversaries in the Middle East.
What would be the future of American military assistance to Israel?
My best guess is that, before the end of the current administration, there will be a new long-term military assistance agreement between the United States and Israel. And if that doesn’t happen in the remainder of the Obama administration, I’m reasonably sure that it would happen very quickly in the early months of a Hillary Clinton administration. There have already been sustained negotiations as to the terms of that renewed military relationship. And it’s clear that the next package will be even more robust than the package that’s set to expire pretty soon.
How would the U.S. immigration system operate or be reformed?
Fundamental long-term, sustainable changes in immigration policy require legislative action. And that means that the two political parties have to find a way of reaching an agreement that has eluded them for many years. As a candidate, Secretary Clinton has committed herself to early action on immigration reform. Some think that if the Republicans lose the presidency for the third consecutive time in 2016, and if they do so in part because they had another bad showing among the rapidly expanding Hispanic electorate, more Republican leaders will be willing to reach an agreement with a Democratic administration.
If it doesn’t work out that way, then I think that we face continued controversy over use of the executive power to accomplish part of what really should be accomplished through legislation. But I think Secretary Clinton has made it very clear that she’s in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. Whether she can achieve it fully through legislation, which would be the most desirable course, is another question. That doesn’t depend on her alone. The willingness of the speaker of the House to meet her halfway will be absolutely critical.
How would Clinton handle Putin and Russia—particularly Russia’s role in Ukraine and Syria?
We know that as secretary of state, she was an advocate of a much tougher policy than the one the administration adopted. I don’t think she’s changed her mind—which is not to say that she would immediately plunge into a large-scale military intervention in Syria. But she has long believed that we could have done more and should have done more to help the victims of barrel bombings and random attacks on urban centers, that we should have done more to provide them with a safe haven. And I think it’s pretty clear also that she feels burned by the failure of the so-called reset with Russia and the Putin government. I think she would be likely to adopt a tougher line versus Putin with specific reference, say, to Ukraine, as well as to the Middle East. I think it’s pretty clear that we in fact left the door open for Mr. Putin to occupy a more central role in Middle East policy than Russia had occupied for many years. And it’s hard to see that the United States has gotten anything out of that open-door policy. I think she would question it.
What would a Clinton presidency mean for the Middle East?
She believes in active, engaged diplomacy. That’s clear from her days as secretary of state. While she supported the nuclear agreement with Iran, she has no illusions about Iran’s motives, intentions or behavior. I think that she would be a pretty tough critic of Iranian efforts to become the dominant regional player in the Middle East. But the question of how exactly that would work itself out, how aggressive she would be in trying to forge an anti-Iranian alliance of the Gulf states and Israel and any other willing players, is still a work in progress.
How would Clinton’s election affect the U.S. Supreme Court in terms of judges and judicial decisions?
I think she’s made it pretty clear the kinds of judges and justices that she would prefer. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she chose to either resubmit Merrick Garland’s name in the new Congress or to support his accession to the Supreme Court in a vote in the lame duck session, if it came to that. I think it’s an open question, whether the Republican leadership will agree to an up-or-down vote on his confirmation in the current session. But I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see her get behind that nomination in her own name—even though President Obama made the initial selection. And I know that many leading Democrats have urged her to do that.
Should Jews vote for Clinton?
I have no doubt that they should. Jews have historically identified their own interests and beliefs with other beleaguered minorities in American society. Jews were leading voices in the American civil rights movement. Jews have always been in favor of equal citizenship and civil liberties for all. No group has benefited more from the protections of the American Constitution and legal system than Jewish Americans have. Most Jews I know believe that what applies to them applies to every other minority group in American society. And so I think that Jews as a group would be well served by Clinton’s presidency.
But the reasons for Jews to support Hillary Clinton go far beyond their self-interest. It has to do with the deepest principles of the Jewish tradition, and also with the lessons of American Jews’ sojourn in the New World, which goes back to well before the founding of the republic.
What role would the Jewish community play in a Clinton presidency?
Hillary Clinton has been a presence in the Jewish community for decades. She knows most of the leadership personally, not just from meeting them in the course of the campaign, but also through extended contacts over a period of years—in some cases, decades. I imagine that her relationships with the Jewish community would remain strong and warm. There might be occasional disagreements, but I’m sure that senior representatives of the Jewish community would be welcome voices in the White House.
Interview with Tevi Troy
In a Trump presidency, how might our policies toward Israel change?
It’s a little hard to say. With Trump, there’s evidence in multiple directions. On the one hand, he does have long-standing, good relationships with Israel. He does have his Jewish son-in-law and daughter. He has said nice things about Israel and participated in the Israel Day parade, as he has said.
On the other hand, he did make those comments during the debate about taking a neutral stance between Israel and the Palestinians. I think a neutral stance is misguided. If there’s one party that is a democratic society and wants to have peace and there’s another society that does not appear to want those things, then I think there’s no point in neutrality. However, he also said that the neutrality would be some kind of bargaining tactic to make the Palestinians feel like they have a neutral arbiter measuring—or at least working on—the problem on behalf of both sides. I wonder about the wisdom of that tactic, given that he said it publicly. The Palestinians read the newspapers, and so I don’t see what the great advantage would be.
What would be the future of American military assistance to Israel?
Since the 1980s, U.S. military assistance has been part of the annual appropriations process and therefore is something that goes through Congress. So I assume that U.S. military assistance to Israel would continue in either administration.
How would the U.S. immigration system operate or be reformed?
The policy appears to be in flux, just based on Trump’s recent comments and the apparent softening of some of his rhetoric since Kellyanne Conway came on board. So I can’t exactly tell you what the parameters of that policy would be. But I would assume that, since he made immigration such a signature issue of his campaign, he would make it a signature issue of his presidency.
He has talked about a wall in the past and about stopping illegal immigration. And I’ve got to say, I’m someone who supports legal and appropriate immigration to the U.S. I’m not anti-immigrant in any way. But I do think we need to do a better job on enforcing our immigration laws.
I think Trump was right to point to some of the flaws in the current system and that we need to get a handle on illegal immigration. I don’t applaud his rhetoric and the way he does it. And I think that there is an opportunity for some kind of immigration reform in a Trump presidency. Usually presidents don’t have many opportunities to get that much done. Usually it’s their signature issue that they really put a lot of muscle behind in the early days of their administration—in that so-called honeymoon period. So from a legislative standpoint, I think the most likely policy that Trump would put himself behind would be immigration. I can’t exactly tell you what the parameters of it would be, but I assume he’d take a tough stance on illegal immigration and allow legal immigration to continue. I assume that he would have to invest a lot of political capital in pursuing some kind of immigration reform.
How would Trump handle Putin and Russia—particularly Russia’s role in Ukraine and Syria?
I’ve got to say, I’m worried about Russia in either administration. I’m worried about the Hillary Clinton administration because there’s been kind of a weak approach toward Russia, a failed reset, that has allowed Russian adventurism in the Middle East and elsewhere. In a Trump administration, there might be too soft an approach, based on some kind of mutual admiration going on between Putin and Trump, and I worry where that would go. Trump and Putin have said nice things about each other. I’m not sure what the basis for the relationship is, but I think any president needs to be wary of Putin, whose goal seems to be to reduce America’s role in the world, and I think that’s a dangerous thing. What that would mean in a Trump presidency, that’s very hard to say.
What would a Trump presidency mean for the Middle East?
The basic answer is—like the answer to most of the questions you have asked: We don’t know. Because when Trump speaks—I think he happens to be a very entertaining campaigner—he says things that can be interpreted multiple ways by different people. I think that was helpful to him in the primaries; it’s less helpful to him in the general election.
On the one hand, he talks about his problems with the Iraq war and keeping America out of foreign engagements and foreign entanglements. On the other hand, he talks about really going after ISIS in a serious and sustained way. So I don’t know what that would mean. I’m not sure what his Middle East policy is. Part of it would depend on the team of experts he has. By his own admission, he doesn’t have a lot of foreign policy background. I’d like to see who he chooses as secretary of state, secretary of defense and national security adviser. That will help shape where he goes.
How would Trump’s election affect the U.S. Supreme Court in terms of judges and judicial decisions?
I liked the list that Trump put together, with the help of the Federalist Society, of possible Supreme Court nominees. There were 11 names on the list [Steven Colloton, Allison Eid, Raymond Gruender, Thomas Hardiman, Raymond Kethledge, Joan Larsen, Thomas Lee, William H. Pryor, Jr., David Stras, Diane Sykes and Don Willett], and I like those names. I think these would be people who are cognizant and appreciative of the importance of religious liberty in American society.
A president, however, chooses close to 500 judges throughout the course of one or two terms, and I would like to see a little more on how he would choose those additional judges and/or potential justices. What would be the mechanism by which he made his decisions about judges? If he told me that he would continue to rely on the Federalist Society to make those decisions, that would give me additional comfort.
My best guess is that he got a lot of credit and praise on the right for his Supreme Court picks, and therefore he would recognize that it’s one of the essentials for keeping Republican voters on board with him. He obviously does have some challenges keeping Republican voters on board. He’s lower than he needs to be in terms of maintaining Republican support to win a presidential election. So I think he’s got to recognize that the key to maintaining or expanding that support is some kind of consistency in approach with judges that goes along with that initial list.
Should Jews vote for Trump?
That’s not for me to say, as everybody makes their own individual decisions. I am curious to see how the Jewish vote turns out for Trump. I did an analysis that showed that, going back to the 1960 campaign, when the Republicans get more than 30 percent of the Jewish vote, they tend to win those elections. And when they get under 20 percent, they tend to lose those elections. And between 20 and 30 percent, there’s really not that much of an indicator; that’s kind of the natural place of the Jewish vote. So a big surge upward of the Jewish vote is good for Republicans. A collapse downward is really problematic for Republicans. Romney got right at 30 percent, which is almost where he needed to be to win.
If you look at the past five elections, in every one but one, the Jewish Republican vote has gone up from the previous election. In 1996 it went up from 1992. 2000 went up from 1996. 2004 went up from 2000. In 2008 there was a little bit of a dip with McCain against Obama, and then again we had a move upward with Romney in 2012. The Jewish Republican vote has been trending upward, but nowhere near a majority—or even a split. The Jewish vote remains almost overwhelmingly Democratic. But the question there is not, ‘Do the Jews vote for the Democrats?’ The Jews do vote for the Democrats overall. But is it going to be 80 percent, which would mean a blowout election for the Democrats, or is it more like in the 60s, which means good news for the Republicans?
What role would the Jewish community play in a Trump presidency?
As in any administration in modern days, Jews are in a very different stage than in the past. Jews are actively involved in presidential campaigns and presidential administrations. In the 19th century, Jewish involvement in presidential campaigns and administrations was rare. In the 20th century, you start to see Jewish involvement, but more on the Democratic side, and more in the fundraising and speechwriting areas. But now, in the 21st century, Jewish involvement has proliferated in all aspects of all campaigns. And so regardless of who wins, they’re going to have prominent Jewish advisers. Stephen Miller, for example, Trump’s policy director, is Jewish. Jared and Ivanka are Jewish and important advisers.
In terms of the Jewish community at large, Jewish community groups tend to want to influence the presidency of whichever party. They will try to do whatever it is that they think is best for the Jewish community in the country. So except for groups that are actively affiliated with the Democratic Party, I think Jewish groups will try and build ties to a Trump administration—just as they try to build ties to every administration.