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“From A Pipe Dream To A Train Wreck”: How Donald Trump Sparked An Unprecedented Crisis Among Jewish Republicans

The Republican Party has a serious Jewish problem.

With the party failing to foresee and later oppose Donald Trump’s rise, Republican Jewish outreach faces an unprecedented crisis. The party could end up with a nominee who alienates both Jewish conservatives by breaking with Republican orthodoxy on Israel and Jewish liberals by promoting authoritarianism, racism, and xenophobia.

Jewish Republicans have rested their case for drawing Jewish voters away from the Democratic Party on what they portray as stronger Republican support for Israel. They play to Jewish affection for Israel by disingenuously depicting President Obama as undermining the historic U.S.-Israeli alliance and snubbing the Israeli prime minister. They claim Obama has posed a dangerous threat to Israel itself, both through the Iran nuclear deal and the administration’s efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Because American Jews are overwhelmingly liberal, multi-issue voters, this strategy was always a bit of a fool’s errand. But it could be subverted completely if the party nominates Trump.

It could have been easy to anticipate this predicament. At the Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum in December, Trump drew criticism for promoting anti-Semitic stereotypes while speaking to an audience of Jewish activists, many of them wealthy donors to the party. He suggested that they might not support him because he wouldn’t take their campaign contributions. He called himself a “negotiator, like you.” He said they were, like him, great dealmakers.

The speech, a characteristic Trump mash-up of insult and purported flattery, at the time provoked a nervous discomfort in the audience, but little tangible opposition.

Even Trump’s promise to use his negotiating skills to reach a “great” peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians — a heresy in conservative pro-Israel circles — failed to produce a coherent anti-Trump strategy from Republicans. The reception he receives at his scheduled speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) next week will be telling.

As his campaign has marched on, Trump has become more brazen with his Islamophobia, his scapegoating of immigrants, and his promotion of “roughing up” protesters at his rallies, who are frequently black.

The Trump campaign also has failed to explain how it gave press credentials to a white supremacist radio host to broadcast live from a rally in Tennessee. When confronted by his refusal to disavow support from the anti-Semitic former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, Trump said, “I don’t like to disavow groups if I don’t know who they are. I mean, you could have Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in groups.” The Anti-Defamation League called Trump’s statement apparently likening neo-Nazi groups and Jewish charities “obscene.”

Jews do not make Hitler comparisons lightly, but increasingly Trump’s rallies, at which he has deployed strongmen and incited followers to violence, are inviting them.

Rather than acknowledge these echoes, though, Trump has derisively dismissed them. After video of Trump supporters raising their arms in a gesture reminiscent of the Nazi salute went viral in Jewish and Israeli media, Trump trivialized his detractors. At last week’s debate in Miami, he called the criticism “a total disgrace.”

In that same debate, in a crucial state in which Jewish support can be pivotal, Trump defended himself with a word salad of some-of-my-best-friends-are-Jewish rhetoric. “I’ve made massive contributions to Israel,” he said, because — don’t you know? — Jews value money over everything else. “I have tremendous love for Israel. I happen to have a son-in-law and a daughter that are Jewish, okay? And two grandchildren that are Jewish.”

Trump’s Republican opponents appear helpless to defend themselves or their party against Trump’s assault on their standing among Jewish voters. The second place contender, Ted Cruz, has strained to portray himself as the most dedicated friend of Israel. Leading a campaign that depends on the support of evangelicals, he has touted his endorsements from supposedly pro-Israel evangelicals. But that comes with its own pitfalls. Cruz has singled out the support of Mike Bickle, a controversial Missouri preacher who claims Jews are “spiritually blind” and must be brought to Christ in order for Israel to be “restored” for Jesus’ return.

The GOP’s 2016 Jewish outreach may have started as pipe dream. It has turned into a train wreck.


By: Sarah Posner, The Week, March 14, 2016

March 16, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Israel, Jewish Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Base Is Skeptical Of Both Men”: Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, And The Art Of Disagreeing With The Base

The race for the Republican nomination is full of potential candidates who could plausibly claim the mantle of the conservative movement’s electoral champion. Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz — they all want to speak for the right wing of the Republican Party.

Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, on the other hand, despite having plenty to offer base Republican voters, simply cannot check all the boxes of a median conservative-movement voter. Bush is a lead promoter of Common Core education standards. He supports a “path-to-citizenship” for illegal immigrants (known to Republicans as “amnesty”). Rand Paul, meanwhile, is significantly more dovish than the average Republican office-holder, and has tried to leverage his libertarian convictions to reach groups that don’t typically favor Republicans, namely young voters and African-Americans.

The base is skeptical of both men, and it’s not hard to see why. And so far, these two likely candidates have utilized extremely different strategies for selling themselves to suspicious conservative voters. Bush opts for open confrontation. Paul tries for appeasement.

Paul, a first-term senator from Kentucky, sometimes gives the impression that he can’t prevent himself from presenting the least-popular, most-controversy-generating libertarian convictions that lie in his heart. Where he succeeds in selling his rather unconventional non-interventionist and libertarian views to conservative audiences is when he can contrast them to either President Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. The most obvious example would be his opposition to intervention in Libya. Paul could argue to skeptical conservatives that in fact, his dovish position was the one consistently opposing the Obama-Clinton foreign policy agenda.

But in a scrum with Republicans, Paul has a harder time. He starts to fudge the differences between his position and that at the core of his party. For instance, his most devoted fans were completely flummoxed when Paul signed Sen. Tom Cotton’s blistering open letter to Iran about the negotiations. Justin Raimondo, the libertarian behind, called Paul “the Neville Chamberlain of the Liberty Movement.”

When first elected by a Tea Party swell, Paul proposed an idealistic libertarian-ish federal budget that cut off all foreign aid, including aid to Israel. But now, instead of arguing that cutting foreign aid makes good fiscal and foreign policy sense, Paul has repositioned himself in a way that gets part of the way to his goal, while ceding much rhetorically to the base. He has introduced legislation that would halt aid to the Palestinian Authority, calling it the “Stand with Israel Act.” This didn’t prevent critics from laughing at his unenthusiastic clapping for Benjamin Netanyahu.

While Paul tries to have it both ways, Bush’s approach has been to confront his critics head on. In an interview with Sean Hannity at CPAC, Bush adverted his views on immigration: “There is no plan to deport 11 million people.” (He did throw a bone in the direction of the movement right, saying, “A great country needs to enforce the borders.”)

When Bush is asked about Common Core, he doesn’t let himself get pulled into the weeds about individual curriculum choices that schools have been developing and making in response to the standards. Instead, he reframes Common Core as a common-sense effort at accountability in public education: “Raising expectations and having accurate assessments of where kids are is essential for success, and I’m not going to back down on that,” the former Florida governor said.

Some conservative commentators have interpreted Bush’s strategies as a a replay of Jon Huntsman’s base-baiting 2012 campaign. But Huntsman seemed to be uninterested in conservative support entirely. Bush’s rhetorical game might actually win their respect.

Bush doesn’t come to conservatives as Mitt Romney did, with a basket full of new convictions. Bush’s efforts to sell his positions to conservative voters is an implicit message that he wants conservatives to support him. It also helps that he keeps hiring political and activist figures who have a devoted following among the most conservative parts of the right.

Even if conservatives can’t get everything they want, they seem to appreciate knowing where the GOP candidate stands, and what they can expect from him. In a way, Bush is giving the movement a compliment by disagreeing forthrightly, and selling his position to them anyway. Paul, on the other hand, is doing his own convictions and his party a disservice by pretending their differences don’t really exist.


By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, March 17, 2015

March 21, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Where Bibi Leads, The GOP Will Follow”: Netanyahu In Effect, Is ‘Their President’

Yes, it looks like Bibi Netanyahu has a better shot than Bougie Herzog does of forming the next government. There are many moving parts here, so it’s not completely set in stone. But the clear consensus by 5 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, an hour after the polls closed, was that Netanyahu and Likud have a clearer path to 61 seats than Herzog and the Zionist Union party do.

I’ll leave it to others who know the intricacies of Israeli politics better than I to parse all that. But let’s talk about the impact of a possible Netanyahu victory on our politics here in the United States. The answer is appallingly simple, I think: Though we won’t see this happen immediately or sensationally, it seems clear that, month by month and inch by gruesome inch, a Netanyahu win will move the Republican Party further to the right, to an unofficial (and who knows, maybe official) embrace of Netanyahu’s pivotal and tragic new position of opposition to a two-state solution.

Netanyahu declared said opposition, as you know, the day before the voting, when he stated, in a videotaped interview: “Whoever today moves to establish a Palestinian state and withdraw from territory is giving attack territory for Islamic extremists against the state of Israel. Whoever ignores that is burying his head in the sand.” When his questioner asked if this meant a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch, the prime minister said: “Indeed.”

Now, it’s been known in Israel and America that this was Netanyahu’s true view of things for some time. He partially gave the game away last summer during a press conference. But he never quite said it as directly as he did Monday, in the culminating event of his final, frenzied, fear-mongering campaign. Israeli leaders of the major parties have at least officially supported a two-state solution for many years. But as of Monday, opposition to a two-state solution is official Israel policy, and as long as Bibi’s the boss, it will remain so.

The United States has officially supported a two-state solution at least since George H.W. Bush was president. Presidents of both parties, and even virtually all serious presidential contenders from both parties, have been on record in favor of a two-state solution. Each president has put varying spins on what it means, and has invested more (Bill Clinton) or less (George W. Bush) elbow grease in trying to bring such a solution about. But it has been the bipartisan position in the United States for 25 years or more, and that has meant there at least was a pretense—and sometimes more than that—of a shared goal somewhere down the road between Israel and Fatah (admittedly not Hamas).

Now Netanyahu has ditched that. How will our Republicans react? Well, they love Netanyahu. As they recently demonstrated to us all, he is, in effect, their president, at least on matters relating to the Middle East and Iran. Is it so crazy to think that what Bibi says, the Republicans will soon also be saying?

Now throw Sheldon Adelson into this stewpot. There are many reasons the Republican Party as a whole has become so epileptically pro-Israel in recent years: their ardor for Bibi, the power of the lobby, the influence of the Christian Zionist movement, and more. But another one of those reasons is surely Adelson. When you’re that rich and that willing to throw multiple millions into U.S. and Israeli electoral politics (to the GOP and Likud), you become influential. Adelson is completely opposed to a Palestinian state. “To go and allow a Palestinian state is to play Russian roulette,” he said in October 2013.

There is already a history of GOP candidates making their hajjes, so to speak, out to Adelson’s Las Vegas base of operations and saying what he wants to hear. John Judis wrote about this in The New Republic a year ago. Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and John Kasich trotted out to Vegas and filled Adelson’s ear with pretty music. Judis: “The presidential hopefuls made no attempt to distinguish their views on Israel and the Palestinians from Adelson’s.” Christie even apologized for having once used the phrase “occupied territories”!

So here we are today: Bibi, their hero, has said it openly, and “proved” (for the time being) that saying it pays electoral dividends; their base certainly believes it; and Adelson and his checkbook make it potentially quite a profitable thing for them to say. So watch the Republican candidates start announcing that they’re against the two-state solution. Some will be coy about it (Bush, probably). Others—Ted Cruz, and I suspect Walker, who’s already been acting like foreign policy is just a little make-believe game anyway, an arena that exists merely for the purpose of bashing Barack Obama and pandering to the base—will likely be less coy.

If this happens, do not underestimate the enormity of the change it heralds. As of now, I am told by people who know, no Republican legislator in Washington has explicitly disavowed a two-state solution. The closest Congress has come to doing so was on a 2011 resolution offered by then-Representative Joe Walsh that called for congressional support for Israeli annexation of “Judea and Samaria.” Walsh got a number of co-sponsors, 27 of whom are still in office.

But that was then. Four years later, Bibi is the American right’s über-hero, and there’s every reason to think Republicans will follow where he leads. And so a rare point on which our two parties were, however notionally, united, will likely be yet another point of division—and given the intensity of feeling here, bitter division. Republicans will think they can increase their percentage among Jewish voters. The current polls indicate that three-quarters to four-fifths of U.S. Jews (about the percentage that votes Democratic) back a two-state solution. But if Bibi proved anything these last few days, he proved that demagoguery and lies can alter percentages. Brace yourselves.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 17, 2015


March 19, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Policy, GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Chris Christie Ain’t Got It”: He Isn’t Aware Of What He Doesn’t Know

There’s a scene in the comedy film “High Anxiety” in which a driver meets Mel Brooks at the airport and offers to pick up his cumbersome trunk. “I got it, I got it, I got it,” the driver insists as he struggles to lift the luggage before gasping, “I ain’t got it!” It lands with a thud.

The sequence came to mind recently as I thought about why I’m so skeptical of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential prospects — and it doesn’t concern the scandal surrounding the George Washington Bridge lane closures.

Having observed Christie on the national scene for a number of years now, I’ve been left with the impression that he isn’t aware of what he doesn’t know. He’s in love with his image as a tough-talking pragmatic governor and thinks he can go before just about any audience and rock em’ and sock em’ with his New Jersey humor and war stories about budget battles. I imagine that he goes before new audiences thinking to himself, “I’ve got this,” without doing the homework necessary to really understand the nuances of national or international politics.

This struck me for the first time when I saw Christie speak at the annual dinner of the Cato Institute in May 2012, in which he rattled the libertarian audience at the outset by referring to them as “a small group of committed conservatives.”

Anybody who has a basic understanding of the intellectual traditions of the limited-government movement would know that libertarians take great pains to differentiate themselves ideologically from conservatives. Referring to a Cato Institute audience as “committed conservatives” is kind of like speaking at a jazz conference and mixing up John Coltrane and Kenny G.

I was reminded of this incident when controversy ensued following Christie’s appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas in late March. After failing to mention Israel at all during his opening remarks, he was asked to offer his reflections on his 2012 visit there.

“I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day,” Christie said during his remarks.

Christie’s overall intention, of course, was to tell the pro-Israel audience that he’s with them in steadfastly supporting the traditional U.S. ally. And yet he sloppily used the terminology “occupied territories.” Not only is the term inaccurate (as even the internationally accepted definition of occupation requires that the area in dispute is part of another sovereign nation), but the term endorses the Palestinian narrative that says any Jewish presence in the area is illegitimate.

According to a source who works within the pro-Israel community, Christie has repeatedly declined offers from those friendly to the idea of his candidacy to receive more advice and briefing on the issue. So it’s no surprise that the savvier RJC audience members were left with the impression that whatever his sympathies, he had little understanding of the dynamics of the Middle East.

To be clear, neither of these dustups are likely to be remembered much by the time the 2016 Republican primaries heat up. I’m not predicting a series of attack ads centered around his “occupied territories” remark. But Christie’s candidacy will be killed in its crib if he thinks he can rely on razzmatazz to impress Republican audiences — especially ones who are already suspicious of him.

His ego may have been inflated by the rousing reception he would receive when campaigning for Mitt Romney in Iowa, New Hampshire and other key states. But there’s a huge difference between being the warm-up act and undergoing the scrutiny of a candidate himself, where every slip-up gets magnified.

If he continues to take his “everything I need to know I learned in New Jersey” approach to national politics, Christie’s presidential candidacy is likely to end with a thud.


By: Philip Klein, Columnist, The Washington Times, April 10, 2014

April 13, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Emperor Needs New Clothes”: The Time Chris Christie Stood Up To Sheldon Adelson

It was clarifying indeed to watch the rush by Chris Christie over the weekend to make up for the sin of using the term “occupied territories” in his speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, where Christie and three other 2016 contenders had assembled to court billionaire casino magnate and profligate political donor Sheldon Adelson. Never mind that Christie’s comments were couched in a strongly pro-Israel riff, or that the term “occupied territories” has been used, at various points, by the U.S. government, then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Supreme Court. No, Christie was harshly scolded for his language and issued an apology for his transgression to Adelson.

What made Christie’s penitence especially striking, though, is that not that long ago, he had been willing to stand up to the Adelson camp. In 2011, he spoke out vehemently against conservatives criticizing his nomination of a Muslim Indian-American for a Superior Court judgeship in New Jersey on the grounds that the nominee, Sohail Mohammed, would prioritize shariah law over the laws of New Jersey and the United States. In remarks that went viral on YouTube, Christie decried the “ignorance” behind the criticism. “Shariah law has nothing to do with this at all. It’s crazy,” Christie said. “The guy’s an American citizen who has been an admitted lawyer to practice in New Jersey, swearing an oath to uphold the law of New Jersey, the constitution of New Jersey and the constitution of the United States of America….This sharia law business is crap. It’s just crazy, and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies. It’s unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background…There’s nothing to any of this stuff. I’m not going to talk about sharia law because sharia law has nothing to do with Sohail Mohammed…I’m happy he’s willing to serve after all this baloney.”

Sheldon Adelson did not weigh in on the nomination of a judge for a Passaic County judgeship. But he has been credibly linked to an outfit that has for some years now been busy fanning the flames of Western paranoia about Muslim encroachment, the Clarion Fund, the distributor for an incendiary 2005 film called “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” Haaretz reported in 2007 that Adelson had personally distributed copies of the documentary to participants in the Taglit-Birthright Israel project, which allows young American Jews to visit Israel and to which Adelson has pledged $60 million. The New York Times reported, in a 2012 article about another anti-Muslim film distributed by Clarion Group, “The Third Jihad,” that the first film had “attracted support” from Adelson, but did not elaborate on whether that support went beyond his distribution of the film to Birthright participants to include actual financial backing. (“Obsession” had considerable financial heft behind it, given that it was distributed to millions of Americans before the 2008 election as an insert in swing-state newspapers.)

The bottom line is that just a few years ago, Chris Christie was willing to ruffle feathers of the likes of Sheldon Adelson when he stood up, in typically pugnacious fashion, on behalf of a Muslim-American lawyer who had defended fellow Muslims picked up in the overbroad FBI sweeps following the September 11 attacks. Yet here he was in Vegas hurrying to make up for his dread mistake of using the “o” word. There are two ways of looking at this. One is that we’re simply seeing the inevitable tension that would arise as a relatively moderate, independent-minded Republican tried to conform to the strictures of pleasing various funders and interest groups thought necessary for a presidential run. (Leave aside the irony that Adelson’s purported goal for 2016 is to find an electable Republican to back, regardless of whether he checks all the ideological boxes, only to have coverage of his big Vegas summit dominated by a candidate’s apology for deviating from orthodoxy.)

But the other way of looking at it is that what we are witnessing is more fallout from the scandal over the politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. Had Christie still been riding high following his big re-election victory and solidifying his standing as the GOP establishment favorite in the run-up to 2016, he might’ve felt less need to plead forgiveness over a single reality-based utterance in the presence of Sheldon Adelson. But he is not riding high, and may have decided that he cannot afford forthrightness as much as he could have just a short while ago. Which again raises the question some of us have been asking since Bridgegate broke: without his famous forthrightness, what, exactly, does Chris Christie have to offer?


By: Alec MacGinnis, The New Republic, March 31, 2014

April 3, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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