There are two ways to read the current polls tracking President Donald Trump’s approval ratings. On the one hand, his favorability is at a historic low for any president only six months into his first term. On the other, the overwhelming majority of the voters that put him in the White House are sticking with him. The same is almost certainly true of his Jewish backers.
That’s hard to fathom for most Jews. The overwhelming majority of Jewish voters remain liberal and, for the most part, loyal Democrats. Exit polls showed that Hillary Clinton bested Trump among those who identified as Jews by a 71-23 percent margin. Given historic voting patterns, there’s nothing surprising about that. But after six months of Trump being dogged by ongoing charges of collusion with Russians, little in the way of legislative achievements and the spectacle of his Twitter rampages, the assumption among liberals is that his support has to be declining.
Some polls do show a drop-off in his numbers. But while Trump’s base is still a minority (as were his totals last November as he parlayed only 46 percent of the popular vote into an Electoral College victory), nothing that has happened during the past months — even the latest revelations about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russians — seems to be enough to cause them to abandon him. The same is almost certainly true of his Jewish supporters.
How is that possible?
The obvious reason is the bifurcated nature of contemporary American society. Part of the explanation is that we are a nation that, for the most part, no longer reads, listens or watches the same media. More than just not listening to each other anymore, increasingly many of us no longer believe in the good intentions of fellow Americans who disagree with our views. Too many Democrats really do think Republicans are, as Hillary Clinton said, “deplorables,” and all too many of the latter think the same about those on the left. That translates into a political debate that is an ongoing dialogue of the deaf no matter what is being discussed, but that is especially true about discussions of Trump’s foibles.
The divide about Trump is also as much about class and how you feel about the political establishment as your positions on the issues. The very behavior that drives many Americans crazy about Trump is the same reason why his backers cling to him since they no longer trust our elites and enjoy his ability to outrage them. While many “Never Trump” conservatives — including some prominent journalists — continue to believe Trump isn’t fit to be president, most on the right are comforted rather than repelled by the fact that he doesn’t conform to our pre-existing notions of how the leader of the free world should act. Those who do have serious qualms about his behavior also see it as a zero-sum choice in which giving up on Trump means acquiescing to liberal rule. For many conservatives, Trump’s preservation of the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court excuses just about anything else he might do.
But for Trump’s Jewish backers, the Israel factor also explains why they aren’t jumping ship.
Many, if not most, liberal Jews cling to the largely debunked assertion that Trump has encouraged anti-Semitism. But Trump’s Jewish supporters don’t just rightly dismiss those claims while pointing to the rise of Jew hatred on the left. They also see his strong tilt toward Israel after eight years of President Obama’s quest for more “daylight” between the two allies as enough to give him the benefit of the doubt — no matter how much his opponents and the press may talk about Russia or his other faults. Israel is just one among many concerns for liberal Jews. But for the many Orthodox Jews as well as political conservatives, it is a litmus test, and so long as he continues to pass it, they will stick with him no matter what his critics say.
We don’t know where the investigations of the administration will ultimate lead, but the stark divisions in our political culture mean there’s little chance that Trump’s base will abandon him under just about any circumstances. That’s just as, if not more, true for his Jewish supporters as it is for the rest of the country.