Here was the argument of many of Trump’s Jewish supporters: He’d rip up the awful Iran deal. He wasn’t afraid to call out the Islamofascists by name. He “got” Israel and wasn’t going to abide the State Department’s failed pieties about the peace process or the location of the United States Embassy. He’d rebuild the military and restore the respect America had lost under Barack Obama. He’d surround himself with good advisers. And his unpredictability was an asset in the face of our adversaries.
As for Trump’s manner, they reckoned his boorishness was of small account next to Hillary Clinton’s corruption. The Billy Bush tape was “locker-room talk.” The Muslim ban showed a healthy instinct for civilizational self-preservation in the face of mass migration from the Middle East. Any suggestion that the Trump campaign trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes was an outrageous slander based on flimsy evidence and contradicted by the candidate’s Jewish grandchildren. The real enemies of the Jewish state were, anyway, almost exclusively on the political left.
There were additional points, and other excuses, but that was the gist of the Jewish conservative’s case for Trump. The Jewish conservative’s case against Trump was far more simple: Breathe in deeply with your nose and … smell.
You could smell it in the shyster methods by which Trump built his business: the unpaid bills; the endless lawsuits; the deceitful advertising; the shady business partners.
You could smell it in the sort of people drawn, like flies to sewage, to Trump’s candidacy: David Duke, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Richard Spencer, Pat Buchanan and Stephen Bannon, lately of the White House.
You could smell it in the tweets: an approving citation of a Benito Mussolini quote; an image of Hillary Clinton alongside a six-pointed star and a pile of cash.
You could smell it in the denunciations of “globalism” and “international banks” and the “enemy of the American people” news media.
You could smell it in the Muslim ban and the border wall and the trade protectionism and the calls to revoke birthright citizenship and the resurrection of “America First” as an organizing political slogan — a politics of exclusion that has never served Jews well even when we were suffered to be included.
Above all, you could smell it in Trump’s indifference to truth. Hillary Clinton may have been a “congenital liar,” as William Safire famously put it. But Trump is something else: a Jabberwock president, nonsensical, menacing and beyond reason.
All this smelliness explains why nothing that’s happened in Trump’s tenure, culminating in Tuesday’s embrace of the “very fine people” who turned up for the neo-Nazi torchlight rally, comes as a surprise. The president’s newfound (or long-hidden) Confederate sympathies are an extension of his other ethnic antipathies, just as the rally’s anti-Semitic chants of “Jews will not replace us” are an extension of the alt-right’s other hatreds. It’s an unbroken chain of nastiness, in which the president has offered himself as the vital link.
The president’s Jewish supporters are left to wonder why the Iran deal remains in force, the United States Embassy is still in Tel Aviv, Bashar al-Assad is stronger than ever, the Israeli government is outraged by the deals the administration has cut with Russia at Israel’s strategic expense, and Jared Kushner has not proved a worthy strategic heir to Henry Kissinger. What’s the mystery? A man whose word is worthless when it comes to his legal contracts will have no compunction breaking his political promises, no matter whom his daughter married.
If conservatism is supposed to teach anything, it’s that, even in politics, character counts above everything. Trump’s Jewish supporters, like so many on the right, ignored the lesson. After Charlottesville, they’ve discovered too late that the price of that support will fall, as it so often has, disproportionately on them.
It’s not going to get better.