Why Never Trumpers Bill Kristol and The Lincoln Project Won’t Ever Mention Israel

Viral ads by two Never Trump groups, the Lincoln Project and Bill Kristol’s Republican Voters Against Trump, get rave reviews. But they're far less effective than they seem - not least among Jewish Trump voters

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Image from The Lincoln Project's ad called 'Shrinking'
Image from The Lincoln Project's ad called 'Shrinking'Credit: Screen grab / YouTube
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin

So far it’s been a summer of discontent for supporters of President Donald Trump. The polls show him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden badly, in both national surveys and the far more important battleground states that decide who wins the Electoral College, and thus the presidency.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore Trump’s poor grasp of governance as well as destroying the booming economy that might have guaranteed his re-election. The protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death have galvanized his opponents.

But rather than the images of chaos helping him, the incumbent, by provoking a "law and order" backlash, the White House’s inability to be in control of events has only further undermined his standing with the public.

And if that wasn’t bad enough news for Trumpworld, there are also two well-funded efforts run by veteran Republican operatives seeking to persuade voters who supported the president in 2016 to either stay home or vote for Biden.

But as much as Democrats have good reason to be encouraged by recent events, they shouldn’t place much hope in the idea that either The Lincoln Project or Republican Voters Against Trump will help push GOP supporters to desert the president. 

Moreover, those expecting Jewish Republicans — who are perceived as being on the whole as more moderate than core red state supporters — to join those abandoning the sinking Trump ship, are likely to be disappointed.

Tweet from the Bill Kristol-founded Republican Voters Against Trump which, together with the Lincoln Project, is producing ad campaigns to push for Joe Biden's candidacyCredit: Twitter

Nor is either group likely to make an effective appeal to Republican-leaning Jews on Israel — the one issue that has always helped determine their votes.

The Lincoln Project is headed by a trio of veteran Republican operatives who helped run past GOP presidential campaigns — Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, Rick Wilson — and most famously, George Conway, husband of Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway. Republican Voters Against Trump is the creation of William Kristol, one of the most influential conservative thinkers of his generation, as well as the most important figure in the Jewish neo-conservative political universe.

But, despite the rapturous coverage they’ve gotten from mainstream media outlets like The New York Times and CNN, there’s little evidence beyond their own press releases and highly professional ad campaigns that they’re contributing to what is shaping up to be a big year for the Democrats.

Never Trump Republican columnists and talking heads proliferate in the pages of The New York Times, the Washington Post and on the sets of CNN and MSNBC. But despite their impressive numbers in the media, these former leading lights of conservatism appear to have taken very few Republican voters with them into the anti-Trump camp.

True, Trump’s numbers among independents are catastrophic. In the 2016 election, he beat Hillary Clinton 48-42 percent, a key factor in his upset victory. But he has now dropped to 33 percent in that category. In 2016, Trump only got 9 percent of Democratic votes but even that abysmal figure has now dropped to 2 percent, which is below the poll’s margin of error.

These figures, along with declining support among older voters, have helped Biden build a lead that, though not insurmountable, still makes him a strong favorite to win in November.

But polls that break down party affiliation, like Gallup, show Trump with jaw-droppingly high figures when it comes to those who identify as Republicans. The latest Gallup poll, that covered the period of June 8-30, actually shows Trump gaining ground back among GOP voters that he lost in May, going up in the last month from 85 to 91 percent, a figure that exceeds the backing any Republican president has had in the modern polling era. 

So while the two hotshot Never Trump groups have gotten rave reviews for their Internet ads and lots of positive publicity from the media, they are failing to influence their target audience. Indeed, it is entirely possible that they may actually be hurting the Democratic cause.

The contempt with which Never Trump groups are viewed by most Republicans actually reinforces loyalty to Trump — and may help account for his increase in GOP support, at a time when he is sinking elsewhere in the electorate.

What accounts for this astonishing degree of GOP loyalty to a president who is so reviled by non-Republicans?

There are two factors that political analysts seem to have trouble understanding.

One is the fact that, disgust for Trump among most voters notwithstanding, his core supporters are largely indifferent to the opprobrium that is heaped on him every day in much of the media. In this hyper-partisan era, most voters only read, listen and watch media outlets that reinforce their pre-existing political prejudices. 

And since conservatives not unreasonably believe that the liberal press is hopelessly biased against Trump and thoroughly discredited itself, by sticking for years with a failed narrative about Russian collusion, they are indifferent to coverage that blames Trump for the pandemic, charges of systemic racism and everything else laid at his feet.

Just as important, they are, on the whole, content with his policies. Trump kept most of his campaign promises to conservatives in a way that previous GOP presidents — specifically the two George Bushes — did not. They’re also more inclined to see the recent protests and the Black Lives Matter movement narrative about America being an incorrigibly racist nation to be false, and responded positively to his frontal attack on the left during his Independence Day speech at Mount Rushmore.

And that is where his Jewish supporters come in. 

Whatever else he has done or failed to do, Trump has more closely aligned the United States with the policies of Israel’s government than any previous American president. Israel is just one among many issues that the overwhelming majority of American Jews who are liberals and Democrats care about, and most of them take a dim view of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But support for Israel has consistently proved to be a litmus test issue for the approximate one quarter of Jewish voters who vote for Republicans.

Trump won 24 percent of the Jewish vote in 2016 and there is little reason to believe anything the Never Trump groups are saying will encourage them to consider replacing the most pro-Israel administration in history with a rerun of Barak Obama’s policies. 

Nor are they likely to listen to Bill Kristol on this point.

Ten years ago, during his previous incarnation as the Jewish conservative mastermind and publisher of the now defunct but once influential Weekly Standard magazine, Kristol did his best to mobilize Jews against Obama after the then-president’s pressure campaign on Netanyahu and outreach to Iran.

Kristol and his allies asserted that Obamas’ policies toward Israel constituted an "emergency," hence his creation of the Emergency Coalition for Israel, a group that sought to remind Jews that Republicans were overwhelmingly supportive of the Jewish state while Democrats were, at best, divided on it.

A decade later, and after seeing Trump hijack the GOP out from under the control of mainstream conservatives like himself, Kristol is determined to help elect Biden, who would almost certainly re-institute policies that he previously claimed were a disaster.

Though he’s still adept at raising money for whatever causes interests him, pro-Israel voters as well as most conservatives see Kristol as a hypocrite and shameless self-promoter. The notion that he can persuade Jews to leave the ranks of Trump’s supporters is a fantasy. This also demonstrates that the Never Trump groups would be wise to avoid any discussion of foreign policy.

Trump may be in deep trouble, with his chances to win re-election slipping away. But if he does lose, it will have nothing to do with the efforts of his Republican opponents.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (the Jewish News Syndicate) and a contributing writer for National Review. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin

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