Home / Politics / White House hears opportunity knocking with Jewish voters

White House hears opportunity knocking with Jewish voters

After displays of alleged anti-Semitism by Democrats and deep divisions within the party over what to do about it, White House officials and their close political allies believe President Trump has a unique opportunity to win support from Jewish voters in the 2020 election, despite the group’s longstanding loyalty to the Democratic Party.

“It’s becoming increasingly uncomfortable and untenable for legion Democratic voters to swallow hard enough to accept brazen, blatant, unreprimanded and unrepentant comments coming from a 37-year-old member of Congress,” senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway told the Washington Examiner.

Conway was referring to Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who recently made multiple comments that evoked old anti-Semitic tropes, such as suggestions that American Jews have “dual loyalty” to Israel and that U.S. politicians only support Israel because of donations from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.

In response to widespread outrage over Omar’s comments, the Democratic-controlled House decided to pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. But when progressive Democratic caucus members complained that such a measure was not inclusive, House leaders caved and passed a resolution on March 7 that condemned numerous forms of bigotry. The resolution was criticized as “watered-down” for its failure to single out anti-Semitism, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drew further criticism for defending Omar.

Trump is already trying to work the issue with Jewish voters, saying last week, “The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party and anti-Jewish party.”

Democrats’ perceived leniency toward anti-Semitism will take a toll on Jewish voters’ longstanding allegiance to the Democratic Party, according to Curtis Ellis, a senior adviser at the pro-Trump nonprofit organization America First Policies.

“By not condemning Ilhan Omar in clear, unequivocal terms, Nancy Pelosi and her crowd are doing President Trump’s work for him in expelling Jews from the ‘Egypt’ of the Democratic Party and bringing them to the ‘promised land’ of President Trump,” Ellis said. “Ilhan Omar is one of the plagues.”

Alex Titus of the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action said Trump “has a unique opportunity to peel off a significant portion of Jewish voters in 2020 who have traditionally voted Democrat.”

“From members of leadership to the rank-and-file, Democrats have an anti-Semitism problem, and it isn’t going away anytime soon,” Titus said.

If Trump does manage to get the Jewish vote, it would be a massive break with tradition. Democratic presidential nominees have won a majority of Jewish voters in every presidential election since 1924. In 2016, Trump won only 24 percent of the Jewish vote, slightly down from 2012, when Mitt Romney managed to grab just 30 percent.

The 2020 campaign “will be a great test of whether Jewish Americans continue to overwhelmingly favor the Democratic presidential nominee, which they have for decades, or allow common sense and basic decency to influence their vote away from the anti-Semitism that is rank within the ranks of the Democrats in Congress, coupled with the president’s clear pro-Israel policy,” Conway said.

Republican National Committee Rapid Response Director Steve Guest said Democrats’ “refusal to act will not go unnoticed by Jewish voters.”

In addition to Democrats’ failure to condemn anti-Semitism, White House and Trump campaign officials believe Trump’s own pro-Israel policies will influence the Jewish vote in 2020.

“There is no stronger supporter of the Jewish people than President Trump, who withdrew from the disastrous Iran deal that put Israel in great peril, defended Israel at the United Nations unlike previous administrations, and kept his promise in moving the U.S. embassy to its rightful home in Jerusalem,” said Trump campaign COO Michael Glassner.

The Jewish vote could prove particularly critical in swing states such as Florida, where elections have historically been extremely close. Ellis said that the Jewish vote is “key to the Democrats’ ability to [win] that state in 2020.” In 2016, Trump won Florida by a margin of just 114,455 votes, or 1.2 percent, and 68 percent of Florida Jews voted for Clinton while only 28 percent voted for Trump. The total Jewish population of the state is more than 600,000.

Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said his organization is already looking at several swing states with large Jewish populations, including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and some of the rust belt states, as possible areas where swaying Jewish voters to the GOP could have a “huge impact” in 2020.

But pollster Mark Mellman cautioned that it is “too early to tell” how Jews will vote because many variables could influence the outcome, such as Israel’s upcoming elections.

“I think the way in which America responds to those elections, to either support the right-wing governments or not, might also affect the Jewish vote for Trump,” Mellman said.

And while progressive Jews typically prioritize social benefits and communal responsibility, which Mellman said “are very much Jewish values,” Orthodox Jews tend to vote with the conservative, religious right, though Mellman thinks this may be changing.

“What I think is interesting is the shift within the right-wing Orthodox world often having more of a progressive voice now,” Mellman said. He attributes this shift to Trump’s immigration policies, “which Jews are hyper-sensitive to,” as well as social policies.

Brooks noted many older Jewish voters have a “historical attachment” to the Democratic Party because of their own experiences coming to the U.S. as immigrants after World War II, as well as their memories of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency and the aftermath of the Great Depression.

But Ellis, the America First Policies officials said these same older Jewish voters could be “poison” to Democrats in 2020 because they recognize what some say is Omar’s anti-Semitism as something they have seen before.

“They remember the virulent anti-Semitism manifested in the Holocaust,” Ellis said. “They remember the various guises and excuses and cover stories used for anti-Semitism and they recognize — they understand exactly what Ilhan Omar is doing.”

Many younger Jews, according to Brooks, have voted Democrat because of a “bombardment” of progressive influences at college and because of family tradition. Some Jewish millennials have had enough, however, according to Elizabeth Pipko of #Jexodus, a group that works to get Jews to leave the Democratic Party. She said Democratsanti-Semitism “is terrifying.”

“Even before #Jexodus began, you could see it all over social media, that what Democrats have done in the past few weeks has really scared a lot of people,” Pipko said. She claimed there is a “shift happening” among young Jewish voters.

Brooks noted that the trend line of Jewish support for Republicans is “upwardly sloping,” from 11 percent in 1992 for former President George H.W. Bush to nearly 25 percent in 2016 for Trump.

“I’m confident that we’re going to continue to make long-term inroads with Jewish voters,” Brooks said.