A torn Jewish community in the Lone Star State

Texas’s small but politically active Republican-Jewish community has remained largely inactive this year at the presidential level.

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2016 Policy Conference (photo credit: SAUL LOEB / AFP)
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2016 Policy Conference
(photo credit: SAUL LOEB / AFP)
WASHINGTON – No greater electoral stronghold exists for Republicans than the vast state of Texas, where a Democratic nominee for president has not won since 1976. GOP officials are confident they will hold the state and its 38 electoral college votes once again next week, despite a historic narrowing of the polls there.
And yet Texas’s old school Republicans – the political class that has long been tethered to the families of former presidents George H. W. and George W. Bush – are more torn than they have ever been over the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. And a similar dilemma faces Texas’s small but politically active Republican-Jewish community, which has remained largely inactive this year at the presidential level. Texas’s Jewish population is small – roughly 170,700 people, less than 1% of the state population.
Only a fifth of that is estimated to vote Republican on a reliable basis, according to Texas Republican insiders. But many of the community’s most prominent GOP figures served with the Bush family, and have been dismayed by Trump, who at times has seemed to be running as much against the legacy of Bush as against that of US President Barack Obama.
“I haven’t seen any Jewish Trump support, and what I have seen is anti-Hillary – they’re all exhausted by him,” said one prominent, longtime Republican official, who has been active in the Jewish community in Texas for years. “There’s been virtually no mobilization for Trump whatsoever.”
In Dallas, a former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council said that he expects the state to remain Republican this year. But he spoke of a significant Jewish-Republican rift over Trump, from his own personal experience.
“Dallas has led the nation in Jews voting for Republicans – but Bush Republicans,” said Marc Stanley, who led the NJDC until 2014. “Most of my friends and colleagues who voted Romney and Bush are not going for Trump. The Bush supporters have been particularly active in following the Bush family in denouncing Trump.”
Stanley has hosted several receptions for the Clinton campaign, and says that people who otherwise would never give him a dime have showed up with generous gifts. “Republicans who wouldn’t ever even talk to me are actively supporting Hillary,” he said.
And in the liberal bastion of Austin, one rabbi, Neil Blumofe, described a Republican community “much more muted” in its support for Trump than it has been for GOP nominees past.
“I can tell you certainly that mainstream, Bush Republicans are very divided. They are very disturbed by the Republican candidate, but there are also some who are sticking with him precisely because of what they perceive to be his support for Israel, specifically,” said Blumofe. “I think there are many more Trump supporters in this community than are willing to volunteer.”
Polls show a statewide race in Texas within a margin of five points – less than it’s been since 1992, and closer than several swing states that Trump must win to secure electoral victory.
“I don’t think the Jewish community in Texas is going to do much different than what it has done historically,” said Fred Zeidman, chairman of Seitel Inc. and a board member on the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Zeidman is deeply involved in both Republican and Jewish politics.
“Statewide though, turnout is higher than it’s ever been, and Democratic turnout is higher than it has ever been.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has a large presence in the state, where the Jewish community and Texas civic and political leadership largely overlap on the issue of Israel.
“Obviously Jews here are concentrated in metropolitan areas, and less so in smaller towns. But it doesn’t mean they are monolithically in one party, as one might expect,” said Larry Schooler, a former Austin City Hall official who now works in public engagement. “You have a lot of what I would consider very conservative Republicans who adopt ironclad support for Israel, but also religious leaders who might not otherwise have common cause with Jewish leaders.”
Scant data exist on the dimensions of Texas’s Jewish community. But the few who are understood to be Republicans seem to be of a different disposition than those who are flocking to Trump’s campaign.
“I think that the Bush name in Texas is still incredibly strong,” Schooler added, “and I think that there are a lot of people who now see some significant distinctions between the Bushes of the Republican Party and the Trumps.”