Steven Windmueller
Is it Good for the Jews?

Impeachment, Anti-Semitism, the Election: The Trump Presidency & U.S. Jews

For America’s Jews, the 2020 election will be all about Donald J. Trump!

In a deeply divided electorate, you find voters who are solid supporters of this President, just as one identifies other Jewish constituencies opposed to 45! As we approach the impeachment process, the intensity levels in connection with the President will be ratcheting up.

 American Jews can be found to be both anxious and angry when talking about this President. His supporters are angry, believing that the President has been maligned and misrepresented, while his opponents might be described as anxious in connection with his actions and messages, concerned as well about his conduct in office. The depth of passion and politics might best convey how divisive this election will play out inside the Jewish community.

At this point, we have identified ten factors that characterize the current state of Jewish political engagement around the 2020 campaign. They are briefly introduced below:

  1. The Rise of Jewish Activism and Political Engagement: Political analysts expect a significant upturn in voter participation for 2020, along with a heightened level of activism, as both political parties seek to maximize and motivate their base and reach out to independents and non-voters! This heightened level or intensity of involvement can be traced back to the 2018 mid-term election.
  2. The Acceleration of Political Funding: We are likely to see a significant investment by Jews of all political persuasions in the 2020 election, by supporting specific candidates, both major political parties and high profile political causes. 
  1. The Great American Jewish Political Divide: The deep character of the partisan divide is also reflected inside the Jewish community, as Jews are emulating the broader cultural and political divisions that define the American electorate. Adding a second dimension to the sharp political divisions, the disagreements over Israel and its policies provides another battleground arena. Is this President “instrumentalizing Jews and US-Israel relations, on behalf of his political interests”? His supporters describe him as the most pro-Israel, pro-Jewish President in history.
  1. The New Anti-Semitism as a Rallying Point for Jewish Engagement: This new factor in the American Jewish political environment may serve to activate “silent” Jews to become more involved within the political process. Concern and fear may be motivating factors in connection with the recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents and behavior.The President’s actions this week to redefine by executive order that American Jews ought to be treated as a “nationality” grouping has (and will) generate a significant debate both inside our community and beyond about the impact of such a political label.
  2. The Return of the Jewish Political Left: There is a long tradition within the American Jewish experience of dealing with the “Jewish left”. It is being reborn, partially in opposition to this Administration but also tied to the rise of the “progressive wing” within the Democratic Party. Accustomed in the past to the existence of “Red Diaper” Jewish voters, such a phenomenon is emerging again for 2020!
  3. The Gilded Jews Syndrome: Jews who may personally despise this President but are benefitting financially as a result of his economic and business policies. In the end their pocketbook interests override their ideological disagreements and in the privacy of the polling booth may cast their ballot in support of his re-election.
  4. The Pro-Trump Jewish Political Right: A strong and active Jewish Republican base will assert their support for the President, citing Trump’s record on Israel and Iran, national security and the economy as their case for endorsing the Republican nominee.
  5. The Never-Trump Jewish Republicans: Already present four years ago, this influential and vocal wing of Jewish Republicans will be looking to embrace “anyone but Trump”. But where do they turn? Its intellectual base comprised of prominent conservative writers and media personalities are framing their disagreements with the Republican establishment.
  6. The Changing Political Character of the Jewish Community: The growing absence of a collective or shared Jewish agenda will find many Jews voting specific issues and/or joining with other disaffected voters to form an anti-Trump coalition.
  7. The Jewish Outliers: During this election cycle, special attention will be directed to several key constituencies, Orthodox Jewish voters, Generation Z “first time” voters, and as referenced above, the so-called “Gilded Jewish voters”. Also of interest will be “Bernie Jews,” those supporters of the Senator, who in 2016 “sat out” the election; will this voting sector be back in 2020?

Broader Election Trends: Beyond specific Jewish behaviors, we are looking at five general campaign factors.

  • The New American Look: The rise of a new generation of voters who reflect the new American ethnic and racial diversity
  • Anger in the Ranks: As we have seen in previous elections, there is always the potential for violence, intimidation and voter fraud/interference.
  • Money, No Object: This will be America’s most expensive election, as both political parties gear up for a broad media campaign along with on the ground political organizing.
  • It’s All About the Mid-West: Six key Rust Belt states may hold the key to the victory of one party over the other! These 80 Electoral College votes will most likely determine the outcome; certainly these states will be key to the President’s re-election fortunes.
  • Understanding the Voters: In 2016 President Trump carried 30 States to Hilary Clinton’s 20. The Republican victory was tied to white, non-college voters, as Republicans secured 63% of these folks compared to only 31% for the Democrats. Will the Democrats be able to recapture a higher percentage of these disaffected voters, who at one time were situated in the Democratic column?

As the impeachment process unfolds and the early primaries come into view, what additional factors will shape the Jewish vote? As we move through this historic moment, what role will America’s Jews play in this unfolding story?

About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
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