2016 Election Blog #23: Political Conventions and Beyond

Steven Windmueller, Ph. D.

Posted on July 30, 2016 / 24 Tammuz 5776

Written by Steven Windmueller, Ph. D.


DNC 2016

The ritual of party conventions has once again come and gone. Indeed, these events have evolved into political theatre as we rarely see these four-day extravaganzas as nothing more than “crowning” and “branding” each party’s nominee. Long gone is the intensity of convention floor fights or the presence of party hacks creating backroom deals. These are scripted affairs, with every key theme and message carefully introduced to American audiences. The “selling” of American political ideas and candidates has been in play for decades, and 2016 was no exception.

Indeed, the landscape to the November election, these roughly 100 days, has also been totally orchestrated around swing states, key constituencies, donor access, and political messaging. Little is left to chance. Let the battle begin!

But what is distinctive about 2016 is that the two political machines, the Republicans and the Democrats, have reversed their places within the constellation of American ideas. It would be the Democrats who would wrap themselves in their Americanism, employing every potential tool and resource to reclaim that they were America’s party, by employing such themes as patriotism, nationalism, and their very presence in Philadelphia as supportive of their party’s identity.

By contrast, by anointing Donald Trump, the Republicans would be fighting a rear-guard action around their defense of the American promise, as their candidate would despair over the condition and status of this nation, questioning the country’s future and seeking to redefine its identity. For the GOP it would be about constructing walls, placing limits on immigration, and removing from this society the unwanted; these negative themes on America would sharply contrast with the upbeat statements generated by the Clinton assertion that “better together” we can build this nation. Where Trump is seeking to anoint himself as this country’s liberator by drawing upon the disaffected and alienated, the Democrats are attempting to construct a coalition of citizens from across the political spectrum to move forward a shared progressive agenda.

This is indeed a significant and real contrast in political organizing. The former is betting on the belief that Americans are fearful, feeling betrayed and disconnected from the Washington establishment, while the latter is committed to expanding upon and growing the present scenario, arguing that Washington can work if we can create a “big tent” coalition of activists committed to expanding the possibilities of government.

But unlike many of the political campaigns that have come before, much more seems to be at stake in 2016. This has been described as a transformative moment in defining this nation’s future, its very identity. But it is also seen as a contest placing two candidates whose “unfavorable” out flank all else that represents their campaigns. For Jews, as for all Americans, so much seems at stake!

What does this Election Mean for American Jewry?

While this changing character of American politics unfolds, that are distinctive roles for Jewish Americans as this campaign unfolds. Five factors will define the “Jewish role” in 2016:

Swing States:

As in previous election cycles, “swing state” Jewish voters will be in-play as both parties seek to attract these critical voters to their campaign. Once again, Ohio and Florida will most certainly be contending for each candidate’s attention; but as of this date, other critical states, including Michigan, Colorado, and Pennsylvania remain as significant battleground territories. Here again, Jewish voters will be targets. In the end, these states and their Jewish citizens will once again attract a heightened degree of attention as this campaign moves forward. As has been noted in the past, not all voters are equal, as so much of the political attention and campaign funding becomes centered among the constituencies found within the contested states.

Jewish Funders:

As these blogs have so recorded, Jews represent major contributors to both political parties and as such will be seen as essential actors over the next three months. The key question, will traditional Jewish Republican donors sit this one out or are they likely to move their support in this contest to the Democratic Party?

Israel Card:

For some Jewish voters, the Israel agenda will be a defining measure as they determine, “which candidate is best for the Jewish State?” No doubt, there will be a play on capturing this segment of voters by both political camps. The Jewish community will see an array of events, ads, and endorsements all designed this fall to win over “undecided” voters to one or the other candidate!

The Rise of Millennial Jews:

Never before has any one-generation of voters received such attention. What will happen to Bernie’s kids? Will they elect to stay home on November 8th or will they galvanize behind the Clinton campaign? What about Jewish Millennials, will they demonstrate the same degree of party loyalty that their parents and grandparents held or will their “independent” streak inform and shape their political consciousness, taking them possibly to a third party or even to Donald Trump, out of their sense of loss and anger over the failed Sanders campaign?

Third Parties:

At this point in time both the Libertarian and Green Parties are scoring significantly better than previous third-party campaigns. While some of this may be seen as a rejectionist vote against the two primary candidates, how much of it defines a new American politics, where other ideas are now drawing interest within the political marketplace? While we have limited polling knowledge at this time over Jewish voter preferences for third-party candidates, we will no doubt see a small sector of American Jews joining other citizens in casting such votes.

Closing Thoughts:

In some measure, none of these five factors are particularly or necessarily significant. Far more to the core of the Jewish story and for Americans at large, is what is at stake in this election?

This is an election that may well define the nature of the American dream. What will be the mindset that will dominate the political culture once the final ballots are cast and a President is confirmed?

America’s Jewish voters will also carry with them into this election season their political identity, borne out of their ties to particular social causes and historic personalities along with their embedded party loyalties. In each campaign, and for sure in this one, there will be transformative moments that help to galvanize voters to embrace or reject a specific candidate and his/her political message. How will Jewish voters understand this historic setting, and what will be the campaign legacy that they will carry forward to their children and grandchildren?

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