There is no sugarcoating it — these are the darkest days for Republican Jews like myself. Donald Trump, the most likely Republican candidate for president, has built within our party the nearest thing America has ever seen to a European nativist working class political movement. Such movements, to put it mildly, have never been good for the Jews or allies of free thought and the free market.
Trump has a commanding lead, which he extended significantly with wins on Super Tuesday. The only way he can be stopped is if blue state Republicans — those living in New York, Maryland, California and other states whose primaries fall after Super Tuesday and contain significant numbers of delegates — side with the conventionally conservative Marco Rubio. It’s possible, though not likely.
Republican Jews are therefore beside themselves, and rightly so. Trump has proven himself anathema on so many levels that it’s hard to identify just one element of his personality or his adopted policy agenda that is particularly toxic.
It’s not just his appeal to nativism, or his crony capitalism, or his crassness, or his expressed desire for “neutrality” between Israel and the Palestinians, or his admiration for Vladimir Putin, or his quotation of Mussolini, or his approval of the crushing of Chinese democracy protesters, or his rejection of permitting any Muslims into the country, or his initial refusal to forswear the endorsement of white supremacists.
It could be any of these things, it could be all of these things, but what perhaps bothers Republican Jews most is this: They think Trump would also abuse the office’s powers. Again, the Jewish experience with overweening, oversensitive wannabe dictator-chieftains is not a good one.
The fact that Trump has a daughter who has, in marriage, embraced the Jewish faith is largely immaterial to Republican Jews. We don’t vote on the basis of personal identity or inherited identity — if we did, we would have supported Gore-Lieberman (we didn’t) and today we would support Bernie Sanders (we don’t).
Let’s assess the opportunity that was lost. At the outset of the campaign there were three or four trusted candidates who enjoyed meaningful Republican Jewish support because of what they were likely to do to repudiate and reverse Barack Obama’s policy gains: Jeb Bush (for whom I worked as a speechwriter), Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and, to a lesser extent, Scott Walker. Today, Republican Jews have coalesced around the last of these men who still stand for office: Rubio and Cruz.
Unless either of these men emerges with a come-from-behind victory, the opportunity to undo the Obama agenda is lost. Fix the U.S.-Israel relationship? Trump wants to stay neutral. Focus on the economy? Trump offers no credible specifics. Pull back the regulatory state? Trump has a business history replete with special deals, use of the bankruptcy courts and eminent domain to suit his own development projects. Politically, he has saved his most vicious attacks for other Republicans, rather than for Clinton or Obama.
The best Trump can offer Republican Jews is not who he is, but who he isn’t: Hillary Clinton. Choosing between these two isn’t exactly Sophie’s choice — we’d rather let them both go.
But let’s not kid ourselves: What Republican Jews do or don’t do is not really the core issue. What matters is what we take away from this politically life-changing moment. This is about the entire Republican Party.
Consider the following: Trump is bringing a lot of people into the Republican Party. The results from Republican primaries show the number of votes cast rising by significant amounts — , 15% in New Hampshire and more than 100% in Nevada. These are voters who may or may not have voted for a Republican before, or in any election before. He might well beat Hillary Clinton in states where Republicans haven’t competed in decades.
Were Trump a conventional Republican, his rise would be something Republican Jews would quickly get behind. But he is neither conventional nor Republican. That’s his appeal, and for those of us who are comfortable with conventional Republicanism, it’s a repudiation of the highest order.
We have to recognize this and decide what to do next.
Let’s wipe away our gauzy myths. We Republican Jews have believed that American families, American workers and American savers and investors form a solid spine in the party of Reagan. But that spine has been shattered by economic stagnation and job loss, opioid addiction, a breakdown in marriage and fatherhood and a sense of cultural surrender. It’s been shattered by a deep sense of resentment among Americans who distrust political power and political institutions. These Americans have concluded that the Republicans of Washington are no different from the Democrats.
The America that we have long admired and championed — a land of open opportunity, where a person could rise to the level that his energy, effort and moxie would take him, a land of justice and fairness, a land that stood proudly alone in the world when necessary, a land where the intrusive powers of the state are held at a distance, a land that was skeptical of the big dreams of faraway leaders — simply doesn’t exist for a great share of Americans. They don’t recognize it, and frankly, they believe Republicans have stopped fighting for it.
So that’s where our future lies. We have previously promised to protect this America and restore it. But we failed. Perhaps if we focused on delivering on our promise, we might also see the rebirth of the party we have called our home. Because the alternative is no political home at all.
Noam Neusner is a principal with the communications firm 30 Point Strategies and is a former White House speechwriter for George W. Bush. Follow him on Twitter @NoamNeusner