Centrist, pro-Israel Democrats have been dreaming of a billionaire coming to their rescue and saving their party from being hijacked by a socialist. But it remains to be seen whether former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the answer to the prayers of voters who view the possibility that Bernie Sanders will be their party’s nominee with alarm.
It may be that Bloomberg’s unprecedented spending spree will yet transform the race. But the centrist lane he hoped to usurp from the fading former Vice President Joe Biden is still crowded with other Democratic hopefuls. And with Sanders riding a wave of momentum fueled by the enthusiasm of his youthful followers — and, according to the results in the Nevada Caucuses, an increasingly multigenerational, multiethnic coalition — halting the septuagenarian senator’s juggernaut is looking more like wishful thinking than sober analysis.
But it’s also still worth pondering whether with whoever it is they nominate Democrats can steal any Jewish votes away from President Donald Trump.
Up until now, the competition for Jewish votes has been a matter of centrist Democrats seeking to rally opposition to Sanders. But once the Democrats make their decision, the focus will shift toward whether their nominee can hold onto the votes of most Jews and also make inroads among those who have embraced Trump.
Republicans think that if the Democrats nominate Sanders, the Jewish vote will be up for grabs in a way that hasn’t been true since Ronald Reagan was running against Jimmy Carter in 1980. On the other hand, some Democrats believe that if Bloomberg is their nominee, Trump’s support among Jewish voters will drop, since the former mayor’s pro-Israel stance will make it easier for Republicans to abandon a president that they consider a disgrace — even if he has done much to bolster the Jewish state.
But both assumptions are probably wrong. Even if the Democrats nominate the man supported by Ilhan Omar and Linda Sarsour, the majority of Jews will still vote for the nominee of their longtime political home. And even if Bloomberg is able to win the nomination, Trump’s hold on the support of the quarter of the Jewish electorate that backed him in 2016 is not in question.
Hatred for Trump is so great among most Democrats that it’s difficult to imagine many of them defecting to the GOP even if their party nominates Sanders. The Vermont senator may lead a coalition of leftist activists who have embraced intersectional myths about Israel being an apartheid state, but partisan ties in this era are so strong that most will still vote for Sanders.
Yet not even a Democratic candidate as attractive to conservatives as Bloomberg will tempt many of them to abandon the president.
Though #NeverTrump former Republicans in the media such as The New York Times’ Bret Stephens get a lot of attention, their views reflect only those of a tiny fraction of voters. As was the case in 2016, even a GOP candidate held in low regard by most Jewish Republicans will still be viewed as the lesser of two evils when set beside any Democrat. That especially holds true with Trump, who is able to run on a record of unparalleled support for Israel as well as fulfilling the expectations of most conservatives on other issues. Trump is more popular among Republicans than any GOP president in memory, and that includes Jews.
It is true that polls have shown that Orthodox voters — assumed to be fervent supporters of Trump — are not as monolithic as some assumed them to be. The Modern Orthodox are more likely to back the president than the non-Orthodox or the unaffiliated. But they still largely lean toward the Democrats as much as they’ve done in the past, and the third of them that identifies as politically liberal are deeply opposed to Trump. Only the charedim are overwhelmingly Republican and favor the president in large numbers.
But this illustrates the depth of longstanding party affiliation more than an opening for Democrats.
While Democrats are outraged on a daily basis by the president’s tweets and statements, Republicans stopped paying attention to the Trump scandal du jour breathlessly reported by hostile cable networks and newspapers a long time ago. The divide between the parties is so great that there are few persuadable voters left on either side. And though they are a minority of Jews, those who are still litmus test pro-Israel voters see no reason to switch from Trump.
While more Jewish votes may be in play than in any recent election, those who think either Bloomberg or Sanders will transform the community’s traditional levels of support in November are not paying attention to the political facts of life in 2020.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.