Staying Home

Many of us are breathing a sigh of relief as we draw closer to next Tuesday, the culmination of a tumultuous — though unfulfilling — election cycle. A slight tightening of the polls is taking place, which most experts believe is indicative of voters who are uneasy with the candidates nominated by their party returning, in what they refer to as “coming home.”

In one state, however, the opposite is happening. Utah, which has voted for a candidate other than the Republican one in only a single presidential election since 1952 (the smallest margin of victory coming in 1996, when, despite losing nationally by almost 9 points, Bob Dole won the state by 19), is trending away from the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

But these voters aren’t turning to the Democrat nominee, either. Instead, they are turning to an independent candidate named Evan McMullin, who is running in a (largely symbolic) effort to reestablish conservatism as a political movement. But what draws Utahans (over 60 percent of whom are Mormon) to him more than anything is the distaste they have for the “values” of the two major party candidates.

Poll after recent poll seems to indicate that McMullin, although not quite the favorite to win Utah just yet, is definitely in contention. And even if Trump pulls out a win there, he hasn’t polled at higher than 37 percent — in a state where Mitt Romney’s margin of victory was 48 points!

Apparently, they took stock during the last few weeks before the election, considered “coming home” to the Republican Party, and realized that it doesn’t really seem like home anymore.

It is kind of heartening to see that there are still people who feel this way. But instead of being an encouraging development, it troubles me quite a bit. (I find that this cycle tends to do that to me.)

We all know that the reason Yonah Hanavi fled after Hakadosh Baruch Hu commanded him to go tell the people of Ninveh that they were going to be destroyed due to their sins was because he was afraid they would do teshuvah. The Mechilta explains (Parashas Bo, Hakdamah) that he was concerned that a proper response to his nevuah by the inhabitants of Ninveh would reflect badly on Bnei Yisrael, who had heard many nevuos exhorting them to repent, but hadn’t done so.

For years, Jews voted overwhelmingly for Democrats. James Baker infamously told a colleague during a private conversation about Israel to ignore Jewish concerns because “they don’t vote for us, anyway.” But one segment of the Jewish population — the frum community — has bucked that trend, realizing that “home” is not the Democratic Party, due to the divergence of interests on matters like vouchers and social issues.

So, for the most part, religious Jews have become reliable Republican voters. Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, expressed it best when he said that the only complaint he has about us is that not enough of us live in swing states.

But is the Republican Party “home” for us? Or is that something we should reconsider as well?

It is easy for those of us on the right to criticize our brethren on the left for their unflinching fealty to liberalism, often at the expense of Jewish values. I know; I’ve done it a time or two. But can that argument really be made in good faith when many of us engage in the same sort of behavior, so long as the candidate is on the “right” side of the aisle?

Embracing a candidate who espouses a position on immigration that is not dissimilar to the kind of policies which kept many of our ancestors out of this medinah shel chessed when they sought to flee the oncoming horrors of the Holocaust is not any different than embracing a candidate who portrays any legitimate concern about illegal immigration as rank bigotry.

Embracing a candidate who normalizes voices of bigots and anti-Semites (while, as my esteemed colleague Rabbi Shafran has pointed out a time or two, it does not mean he is anti-Semitic) is not any different than embracing a candidate who normalizes voices of people who are virulently anti-Semitic and express those sentiments using “anti-Zionism” as a cover.

And embracing a candidate who is degrading the moral character of the right wing in this country with his actions is not all that different than embracing a candidate who seeks to degrade it by means of political positions.

I can accept the argument that has been advanced by many on the right, that there is a need to back Trump as a means of getting the proverbial half a loaf as compared to getting nothing if Clinton is elected. I am so sympathetic to it that I’ve even considered it. But it doesn’t — and shouldn’t — mean that the candidate and all he stands for now become ideal. The real differences we have — or ought to have — with the candidate don’t then just disappear. But for too many people, they seem to.

It is true that our value system and political interests are more aligned with the Republican Party than the Democrats. But we need to remember that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are not our leaders. Our direction does not come from political movements — although it might lead us to occupy common ground with some movements more than others.. And when it does, we should not get too comfortable. Because as secure as it may seem, it isn’t home.