Trump stokes Dems' anti-Semitism spat ahead of 2020

Trump stokes Dems' anti-Semitism spat ahead of 2020
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy MORE is seeking to turn an anti-Semitism controversy engulfing Democrats into a wedge issue for Jewish voters heading into the 2020 election, despite warnings the gambit has little chance of success and could cause more pain within the American Jewish community.

While Democrats try to contain the fallout from remarks by Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarSunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Omar responds to family of 9/11 victim who called her out at anniversary ceremony Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley dance to Lizzo's 'Truth Hurts' in video MORE (D-Minn.) that were widely condemned as anti-Semitic, Trump has kept the issue alive by repeatedly arguing that the party’s infighting over its response shows Democrats have turned against Jews. 

Trump on Friday publicly called Democrats “anti-Jewish,” then doubled down by reportedly saying at a closed-door fundraiser over the weekend that they “hate” Jewish people. On Tuesday, Trump promoted an assertion by former Trump campaign staffer Elizabeth Pipko, who said on “Fox & Friends” that Jews are “leaving the Democratic Party.”

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Michael Glassner, chief operating officer for the Trump campaign, said last week’s events show Democrats “stand squarely with their radical left base” that tolerates anti-Semitism and is no longer a place for Jewish voters.

“President Trump stands firmly against the hateful ideology that [Speaker] Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiProgressives call for impeachment inquiry after reported Kavanaugh allegations The promise and peril of offshoring prescription drug pricing Words matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump MORE and House Democrats have failed to condemn,” Glassner said in a statement to The Hill. “There is no stronger supporter of the Jewish people than President Trump.”

Despite Trump’s apparent optimism about winning over Jewish voters in his reelection campaign, critics say any effort to do so will be stymied by historical ties between Jews and the Democratic Party, as well as Trump’s history of making comments that have been condemned for containing anti-Semitic themes. 

Major Democratic donors argue the Omar flap will not affect Democratic presidential candidates in 2020, with one predicting that “it will have zero impact on the general” election.

Another prominent donor acknowledged that Omar “made a series of rookie mistakes” but said Democrats of all religious backgrounds are united in their determination to defeat Trump.

“Ultimately we have one goal: Elect Democrats and boot Trump and the folks around him,” the second donor said. “It's safe to say almost everyone feels this way. Nothing else matters.”

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Trump angered Jewish groups and others in 2017 when he said there were “very fine people on both sides” of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., where marchers carried Nazi banners and chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

In 2016, Trump tweeted an image of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDershowitz: 'Too many politicians are being subject to criminal prosecution' The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Democrats spar over electoral appeal of 'Medicare for All' MORE with the phrase “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever” inside a Star of David on top of piles of cash. He also inflamed tensions in 2015, when he told a group of Jewish Republican donors they would not support him because he would not accept their contributions. 

Pipko serves as spokesperson for an organization called “Jexodus,” which describes itself as a group of “proud Jewish millennials tired of living in bondage to leftist politics.” She said on Fox she is “optimistic” that a large number of Jews will abandon Democrats in favor of Trump and Republicans. 

“We know, obviously, that the Jews have overwhelmingly supported Democrats but it doesn’t mean that the Jewish vote should be discounted,” Pipko said Tuesday.

But Jewish Democrats and others have labeled Jexodus a fringe group that is not representative of the larger Jewish community. 

Roughly 70 percent of Jews identify as Democrats, a figure that has remained consistent over the past quarter century, according to the Pew Research Center. More than seven in 10 Jewish voters supported Clinton over Trump in 2016, exit polling data showed, and just under 80 percent of Jews voted for Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterms.

“President Trump himself has trafficked anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and evoked anti-Semitic tropes,” said Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. “While President Trump might be trying to exploit what he views as a political opportunity to make inroads with the Jewish electorate, this will fail.” 

Regardless, Trump and his allies hope that keeping the debate in the news will stoke divisions among Democrats and fire up the GOP base.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday criticized Democrats for failing to rebuke Omar by name in a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred.

“It's something that should be called by name,” she said during a press briefing. “It shouldn’t be put in a watered-down resolution.”

Omar last month set off a firestorm by saying some supporters of Israel are urging “allegiance to a foreign country,” which was condemned for echoing charges of dual loyalty that have been used against Jews for centuries. Trump has hammered Omar for weeks, calling on her to resign or lose her committee seats.

Sanders contrasted Democrats’ Omar response with how House GOP leaders handled Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingOcasio-Cortez rips Steve King after he shares video drinking from toilet-fountain hybrid at border Steve King says he drank from toilet at detention center Steve King jokes about China forcing Muslims to eat pork MORE (R-Iowa), who was stripped of his committee assignments for questioning why “white supremacist” was an offensive term. But critics say Republicans tolerated similar comments by King for years and that Trump courted his support.

The controversy expanded Tuesday when a spokeswoman for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Booker defends middle-ground health care approach: 'We're going to fight to get there' Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate MORE’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign apologized after questioning whether Jewish Americans have “a dual allegiance to the state of Israel,” which was also criticized for evoking the dual-loyalty charge.

Some major Jewish groups lament that Trump’s efforts to roil the debate surrounding Omar could threaten bipartisan support for Israel and the Jewish community as a whole. 

“When #antiSemitism is repeatedly politicized, it not only hurts the Jewish community, it fosters division,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, a former Obama administration official, tweeted Tuesday. “At a time when #antiSemitism is rising, we need leaders to lead and fight #hate rather than point fingers and cast blame. Enough.”

Jews comprise about 2 percent of the U.S. population, but their votes could prove crucial in battleground states with large Jewish communities, like in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada, where a slim margin could decide the presidential election.

But Israel, which Trump often points to in his appeals to Jewish voters, is less of a motivating factor than domestic issues. Jews surveyed in the U.S. last year by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who is also an opinion contributor to The Hill, ranked support for Israel behind Supreme Court picks, entitlement programs, health care and taxes on a list of important voting factors.

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) acknowledged the difficulty in making inroads with more Jews, but said even small gains can make a big difference.

“Florida is a state where 1 percent of the voting population can swing things,” said RJC spokesman Neil Strauss. “We’re working very hard to get important, but incremental, increases.”

Strauss said the group plans “to make the biggest investment we have ever had” on advertisements, advocacy and independent expenditures to help Trump and GOP congressional candidates in 2020. He did not provide a dollar amount for implementing those plans.

He said the group is encouraged that Jewish support for GOP presidential nominees increased in four of the five presidential races between 1996 and 2012, though it fell in 2016.

Trump supporters say his close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem will give Jews ample reason to support him in 2020.

“We’re pulling out all the stops,” Strauss said. “We want to make good on what the president said.” 

Amie Parnes contributed.