Recent polls have indicated a slow trickle of American Jews joining the Republican Party. How extreme, insane and ignorant does the party have to become before these people wake up?
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that FiveThirtyEight and other “big data” sites are correct, and that neither Ben Carson nor Donald Trump will actually be the nominee next August. The Republican primary rules are heavily skewed in favor of establishment candidates, and the establishment now seems to be coalescing around Marco Rubio (with a few Jeb Bush die-hards), who, despite his recent, very un-Jewish denigration of higher education, is still a sensible politician.
But even if that’s true, more than half the Republican electorate supports candidates who are extreme, unqualified, ignorant and bigoted (Trump against Latinos, Carson against Muslims).
Examples? Carson has said Obamacare is worse than chattel slavery and that women who have abortions are worse than slave owners. As of last March, he did not know what the Knesset was, but still had an idea for Palestine: to “just sort of slip that area down to Egypt.”[
Carson’s status as a neurosurgeon has covered outrageous ignorance of basic science. He denies the possibility of the Big Bang and often spouts pseudo-scientific gibberish to convince the rubes of his deep scientific knowledge.
His remark about Joseph building the pyramids for grain storage has gotten the press, but beneath it are far more relevant and preposterous beliefs. God talks to him and guides his hands — is there any more dangerous belief for a man who wants to put one of those hands on the nuclear button?
And then there’s Trump, who wants to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants by bringing back the Eisenhower-era “Operation Wetback”, which, unlike Obamacare and gun control, really was like Nazi Germany, complete with roundups, racial profiling and concentration camps. And that was for 1 million people; to deport 11 million would require a police state such as the West has not seen since World War II.
And have we forgotten Donald Trump’s Trutherism, which he still appears to believe in?
Now, the Republican Jewish Coalition would say, these are just the wingnuts — not the mainstream. But that’s not true. In fact, the wingnuts are the mainstream, and moderate Jewish Republicans are either deliberately closing their eyes and ears to this reality or are being taken for a ride.
First, as Mike Lofgren pointed out on BillMoyers.com, Carson and Trump do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of what Lofgren aptly called “an infrastructure of know-nothing-ism,” a structure that includes Fox News (whose pundits are factually wrong more than half the time), the Heritage Foundation (which continues to peddle trickle-down economics even though that theory has been thoroughly discredited by actual economists), the climate-denying Heartland Institute and the evolution-denying Discovery Institute.
Not to mention a whole parallel universe of unlicensed educational institutions (including the segregationist Bob Jones University and Falwell’s Liberty University), doctored gotcha videos (ACORN, Planned Parenthood) and even fake best-selling books bought by think tanks and given away for free.
The great irony here is that the Carsonian right claims objective truth, while in fact preaching radical relativism. Empirical evidence, scientific method, reason — none of these counts against faith-based (or Fox-based) beliefs. In Lofgren’s words, “For these culture warriors, belief in demonstrably false propositions is no longer a stigma of ignorance, but a defiantly worn badge of political resistance.”
Second, Republicans like the crazy: 81% of Iowa Republicans found it “very attractive” or “mostly attractive” that Carson said Obamacare is “the worst thing since slavery.” Meanwhile, 77% liked his comment that Hitler wouldn’t have been successful if “the people” had been armed. (In fact, Hitler revoked Weimer-era gun control so that “the people” could kill Jews more effectively.) And 73% liked Carson’s statement that a Muslim shouldn’t be president.
Now, that’s Iowa. But Carson is polling similarly elsewhere, and every incendiary thing Trump says only helps his status.
Today’s Republican Party is like a bratty 13-year-old: It loves anything that pisses off Mommy and Daddy — that is, the mainstream media, people who know stuff about politics or science, and people with a college education.
Meanwhile, 43% of Republican voters believe President Obama is a Muslim. That’s not the fringe. That’s the center.
The modern Republican Party owes its very existence to these twin towers of ignorance, Trump’s Tea Party and Carson’s religious right. Yes, there are respectable moderates and conservatives in the race, and usually they end up with the nomination (Romney, McCain). But without the grudging support of the nativist, know-nothing populists (the Republican base since Nixon’s Southern Strategy) and the end-times-believing conservative Evangelicals (77% of whom believe that we are living in the Last Days), they’d never win public office. The only question now is whether the lunatics really will take over the asylum rather than merely keep it in business.
So what is the Republican Party in which Jewish Republicans believe?
A mirage. David Brooks, Bill Kristol, Eric Cantor — these guys garner high speaking fees at synagogues, but they’re just the decoration on the Republican crazy cake. Even Charles Krauthammer and Sheldon Adelson are less wackadoodle than Carson, Trump and their supporters.
Moreover, Republican support for Israel is a double-edged sword. Yes, all the candidates will kowtow to the party line of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s presidential forum next month. But the Christian Zionist movement has, in the past several years, gone off the rails to become an apocalyptic cult that wants to convert the Jews (as Michele Bachmann recently let slip) and draws its leadership from the New Apostolic Reformation, whose modern-day prophets believe that American cities are under the spell of demons.
This isn’t just about opposition to the Iran nuclear deal anymore. The Christian Zionist right believes in a scary, looming end-times scenario that involves Christian/Muslim conflict in Syria and Northern Israel bringing about Judgment Day.
Once again, it’s easy to dismiss such beliefs as fringe stuff. We don’t support that, the RJC would say; we’re just about less regulation, lower taxes and the State of Israel. Which is fine, except that few other Republicans agree anymore. It’s a shame that there’s no party left for moderate Republicans like Brooks and Kristol, but it’s also the reality.
Jewish votes won’t swing many states to the 2016 Republican nominee; really, only Florida and Ohio are in play. But Jewish donors like Adelson, Paul Singer, Steve Schwarzman and John Paulson can make a significant difference. And opportunistic Jews provide cover for radical Christian theocrats in their efforts to turn back the clock to 1950.
Many American Jews think they are supporting a reasonable, conservative, hawkish-on-Israel Republican Party. But that party won’t be on the ballot next year. The one that will be on the ballot is dangerous.
Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward.