Thirteen U.S. Presidential GOP candidates were in Washington DC today to speak to a group of Republican and Conservative Jewish voters, donors, and activists. The Forum was organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition. Even though many of the top fundraisers are committed to candidates, one never knows, a good speech could sway a big macher, and a bad one can sway as well.The first thing I learned was: Republicans have strong bladders. There was no bathroom break between candidates in the morning. Each candidate was granted 30 minutes for a speech and Q&A.
I kept a scorecard to check whether each candidate made mention of (1) moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; (2) Denying Iran a nuclear program; (3) Supporting the policies of the elected government of Israel; (4) Wiping out ISIS; and (5) Obama/Kerry/Clinton are naive about the Middle East
Another lesson was – I was at times more fascinated by the RJC Board Members who introduced their candidates than the candidates themselves. For example, Ken Bialkin introduced a candidate. He is a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and was former chairman of the ADL and President of the JCRC of New York. Or Wayne Berman, a former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Policy.
There are a lot of players in the GOP. According to a listing of hosts for breakfast and other events, I saw that Jeb (Jeb!) Bush had Yitz Applebaum (Opus Capital), George Klein, Ronnie Krongold, Florida’s (Home Depot) Bernie Marcus, Josh Bolten, Steve Friedman, Sam Fox, Fred Zeidman (important GOP fundraiser and Houston venture capitalist, Chairman of Seitel, Inc.) , Cheryl Halpern, Fred Karlinsky, Ken Mehlman, Robert Schostak, Mel Sembler (Florida real estate developer, past finance chair of the GOP), and Florence Shapiro as supporters. Marco Rubio had Wayne Berman (Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Policy under Bush, JLT America), Mark Bowman, Elliott Lawler, Rick Horvitz, Brad Rose, Steve Louro, Phil Rosen, Larry Mizel, and Jeffery Feingold (MCNA Dental Plans) in his corner.
When Senator Lindsay Graham took the stage, some in the audience did not know whether to clap. he asked the assembled who supported a certain immigration policy. Some clapped. He then criticized them and told them why he disagreed with them. So incensed with Senator Cruz’s speech, Graham threw away his planned speech on foreign policy and instead lectured the attendees on why the GOP will definitely lose if it continues to ostracize women with its strict anti-abortion policies and drive away Hispanic voters with its anti immigration rhetoric which they perceive as racist against non-Canadians. I, personally, found his speech refreshing.
Not so with Donald Trump, who, according to most polls, and a recent poll of GOP Jews, is the front runner. Trump, a star of a reality TV series, arrived after the Associated Press quoted him as saying that Israel might need to make serious concessions in a future peace deal. Trump, who’s daughter is Jewish, told the attendees that, “I know why you’re not going to support me. You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money …Look, I’m a negotiator like you folks, we’re negotiators.” Yummy. let’s use a code word and say Jews like to … umm.. haggle? During the Q&A, Trump was asked about whether as a President, he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. When he explained that he would not answer this until after he meets with Israel’s PM next week, there were some boos. Trump asked “Who’s The Wise Guy” and told them to “just relax.”
Several headlines blared that people boo’d Trump. people? Less than half a dozen in a crowd of 700.
In a tweet after the speech former White House spokesman and longtime RJC mover Ari Fleischer tweeted, “‘You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.’ What the hell does that mean?” One attendee was overhears telling a reporter, “As a stand-up…, he’s a natural. But on Jerusalem — that was a mistake.”
Some made a joke about Ben Carson calling HAMAS.. Hummus. It happened once or twice. It wasn’t really as bad as some of made it out to be. He left without taking any questions. Actually, his speech was embarrassingly poor, even though he read from notes.
Senator Marco Rubio received several morning ovations, especially when he said, “We must not separate the threat to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv from the threat to Paris, or London, or New York, or Miami.” He criticized another candiate (Trump) for saying that Israel needed to make concessions. Rubio also spent time slamming the EU and others on support of BDS. Regarding BDS, he said, “I believe we need a president who is not afraid to call this out for what it is: anti-Semitism. I will be that president.” Rubio – slow, steady, sober, scripted – seemed to be the winner – or the candidate who gained the most – from his appearance at the Forum.
Huckabee, the first speaker after lunch, thanked the audience for coming back after the meal to listen to him. Huckabee listed his Israel-visitation and Baptist creds. An opponent of a two state solution, he said, “I consider [the two-state solution] no solution whatsoever… There cannot be two states trying to own the same piece of real estate.” There was a smattering of applause.
Jeb! Bush gave a confident speech, and name dropped his mother, father, and brother to applause. He started with a mention of Hanukkah, the murder of an American yeshiva student in Israel last month, and asked for a moment of prayer for those killed and injured in Southern California.