In case you haven’t noticed, the 2016 presidential election has begun. Candidates have officially announced their candidacy, announced when they will announce, or announced that they are thinking about announcing. Each of the candidates is seeking to distinguish him- or herself from the others, explaining to the voters why he or she is the ideal candidate to be put forth, respectively, as the Democratic or Republican Party’s nominee. And while it seems as though Hillary Clinton has the nomination of the Democratic Party all but locked up, on the Republican side, there is nobody who can be called the clear favorite.
In all likelihood we are looking at a primary campaign in which, due to the large number of candidates, the nomination will be decided by the slightest of margins and the winner won’t need to get too large a share of the vote to actually win. Considering that we live in an era in which politics and political campaigns are run and won through “microtargeting,” this presents the frum community with an opportunity the likes of which hasn’t been seen in quite some time.
Conventional wisdom is that, as one askan once told me, “We really don’t have much influence in national politics” and thus are better off concentrating our efforts on connecting with local and state politicians to further the interests of our community. But that assumes a couple of things that aren’t as true as they once were.
The uniqueness of this field of presidential contenders makes this election very different from others before it. There is, as we said, the sheer number of candidates — which means that any “group” a candidate can pursue, even those that are usually too small to be worth the time and effort, is one whose value is multiplied many times over.
There is also the fact that very little separates the candidates on ideological grounds. The vast majority of those running are strongly pro-family, pro-freedom-from-government-intrusion, conservative politicians. Which means that in order to get voters to support them, the primary will be about smaller issues — since the big ones are more or less decided. Concerns that are important to our community but are usually considered “too small” for such a big campaign — such as school vouchers and child tax credits — are slowly making their way to the top of the list of items the candidates are pushing. Therefore, instead of only catering to groups dedicated to “core conservative values,” these candidates are looking for (smaller) constituencies that would most appreciate more specific positions, hoping for their support. These would include us.
Some question whether the politicians are even thinking about us at all. Well, some Republican candidates are certainly looking for our support. Note a recent Politico headline, proclaiming “Ted Cruz Woos Orthodox Jews,” and a quote from his deputy chief of staff in the Forward, “Orthodox Jews are growing as a segment in the Jewish community… I believe the community will be very involved in shaping the  Republican race.” These make it very clear that, if we choose to, we can impact this race.
But we can only be involved in shaping the race if we make the effort. Many people think that since the Democratic Party is more likely to boost spending on government programs, there is value in supporting
its candidates, or at least, not actively working against them. These people are making a big mistake. There is more than enough to counterbalance these concerns. If you look, for example, at the tax proposal of Marco Rubio — whom many consider the strongest candidate in the Republican stable — it contains a $2,500 per child tax credit (up from the current $1,000), and its refundability doesn’t have the limitations currently in place.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the issue of religious freedom has become a strong Republican position. While the Democrats’ standard-bearer, Hillary Clinton, has proclaimed that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” to further the progressive agenda, all Republican candidates have strongly championed religious rights.
The current administration, despite having been turned back at the Supreme Court, is consistently of the position that our beliefs and values must take a back seat to what it feels is “right.” That’s certainly enough to warrant shtadlanus in getting involved to help those candidates who are proud to stand up in defense of our religious practices and values.
While some may say that the outcome of these conflicts, although important, won’t have a real enough impact on our lives to warrant much involvement in national politics, this is also a mistake. Consider this: recently, the Obama administration was (once again) arguing a position at the Supreme Court that runs counter to religious values. When Justice Alito asked, somewhat incredulously, whether the administration was arguing that religious institutions that didn’t change their beliefs to that of the administration would lose their tax-exempt status, the solicitor general responded, “It’s certainly going to be an issue… I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is going to be an issue.”
I doubt that’s an issue we would want to have to deal with. The only answer is to get more involved by forging personal connections with campaigns and letting candidates know which issues are important to us, and which stances are most likely to influence us to vote for them. Perhaps our involvement should include raising money for these candidates (of course, not at the expense of mosdos, but from personal funds) and, of course, when the time comes, going out to vote.
We certainly have something at stake, and we can make a difference.