Beyond Trump’s “Disloyalty” Affair

August, 26 2019

Five things to know this week from the nation’s capital.
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1. The “Disloyalty” Affair and the Jewish-Republican Response

Believe it or not, American Jews survived another week, a fact that didn’t seem all that obvious last Tuesday, as the community went into full gevalt mode (and rightly so) after President Trump argued, and then repeated the claim that American Jews who vote for the Democratic Party are disloyal. 

Thousands of words were written, endless tweets have been fired off,, petitions were signed and pundits rushed to TV studios as the entire nation debated Jewish sensitivities, loyalties and history. Trump’s unfortunate soundbites, in which he offered his observations regarding where Jewish loyalties should rest, are likely to become part of the nation’s soundtrack for the next two years, alongside the infamous post-Charlottesville “fine people on both sides” comment and similar instances in which he offended minority groups. 

On the political level, however, the loyalty debate islast week’s news. That means Republicans can take a minute to breathe and calculate their next move. As of now, the Jewish-Republican response can be divided roughly into three camps: First, Trump supporters who felt they had to draw the line. Key to them is Rep. Lee Zeldin who is known as a staunch Trump defender even in tough times. In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Ron Kampeas, Zeldin chose his words carefully but made it clear that as strong of a Trump supporter he is, this time he would not defend the president. “It’s a word that I wouldn’t use, with a long history of being used by others who have a hatred towards Jews and Israel,” he said in the interview. “Even if the person using it is filled with love towards Jews and Israel, I still avoid it because of that history.” Then, there are the diehards who chose to defend Trump at any cost. This would include the Republican Jewish Coalition, which was quick to announce that “President Trump is right” and later that they take Trump “seriously, not literally” when he talks about Jewish Democrats’ loyalty. But for many Jewish Republicans, the preferred course of action was to lay low and wait for the whole episode to blow over. Leading this group are first daughter and son-in-law Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, alongside many other top Jewish administration officials and Republican donors. Tactically, this is probably the most effective approach. On the one hand, Trump is not one to value disagreement or criticism, and on the other, it might turn out to be bad politics to stand behind a Trump comment that he may later disavow.

Remaining neutral on this major controversy may be the safest response.

2. There’s No Real Electoral Gain or Loss Here

The “disloyalty” debate, for all its intensity, bears little political consequences. Democrats, under attack from Trump, have been responding with equal force and have gained points in the public arena. Their retaliation, however, will not move any votes. Democrats have by now  maxed out on their Jewish anti-Trump supporters. Republicans also don’t stand to gain or lose from the latest spat. Jewish Republicans who intend to vote for Trump in 2020 have already heard the claim that he stokes anti-Semitism and have ruled it either untrue or irrelevant. And as for those few swing Jewish voters in those couple of swing states where it matters? This is too tiny a crowd to move by either claiming that a vote for Democrats is an act of disloyalty or that a vote for Trump will keep a president lacking any sensitivity to the Jewish community in the White House.

3. What Trump Could Have Done? (Had He Not Been Trump)

Despite their explosive nature, Trump’s comment could have been disarmed even after the words were uttered. It’s not as if there’s no protocol for cleaning up messes with the Jewish community—or any other group, for that matter. It could include a round of calls from a White House official to Jewish leaders, a message by the president clarifying his statement, a closed-door meeting for Jewish officials with a top Jewish surrogate (Jared, Ivanka, Jason Greenblatt, Steven Mnuchin), a nice op-ed or a speech at the next Jewish organization’s gathering in DC. But for that you’d need a liaison to the Jewish community (Trump chose not to fill the position), an ongoing dialogue with majority groups within the community (he has limited his contact to Orthodox and Republican Jewish groups) or a president willing to relegate power to a strong Jewish figure within his administration who maintains ties with the community (no such figure has emerged). 

Mistakes are bound to happen. The trick is to get them fixed.

4. How Will The “Disloyalty” Issue Reflect on Netanyahu in The Elections?

An ocean away, Trump’s No.1 admirer, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been awfully silent. The Israeli prime minister, less than a month before elections come around (again) has chosen to remain uncharacteristically quiet about Trump’s comments. And for good reason. Defending the president would be difficult and would likely ignite another round of resistance to Netanyahu from the American-Jewish community. Criticizing Trump, on the other hand, wouldn’t go down well with the president. So for Bibi, silence is golden.

Could Trump’s comment have an adverse impact on Netanyahu’s electability in Israel? Nothing to worry about on that front. Bibi may be running the toughest race of his political life, but if he loses votes, it won’t be because his buddy Trump used anti-Semitic terms. The Israeli public has proven time and again that there is nothing they care about less than complaints coming from Jewish-American liberals.

5. A Gentle Reminder

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