Hamodia (US) — Went went wrong with Mitt Romney’s campaign? Even more importantly, what does it mean for the future?
To find out, I spoke with the most senior orthodox Jew in the Romney camp – Tevi Troy, PhD. In addition to policy issues, Troy advised the campaign on Jewish outreach. In the Bush administration, Troy served as Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services. He was one of the highest ranking Orthodox Jews in the federal government.
Troy is a true believer in Mitt Romney. He signed up with Romney in August of last year when Romney was just one of several GOP contenders.
“I liked Romney’s smarts and his experience,” recalls Troy. “He clearly knew how to handle himself.”
His main role was a policy advisor and campaign surrogate in media interviews. Troy also quietly led one of the policy teams planning a possible transition to the presidency.
The presidential transition never came to be.
Werth: You put in a lot of effort and time over the past year for Romney. What was your reaction when he lost the election?
Troy: Disappointment but not surprise, I saw the writing on the wall a week ago, after the superstorm stopped Romney’s forward momentum.
Werth: Before the storm, it seemed like Romney could win. What went wrong?
Troy: No one thing went wrong. Romney was a good candidate. He did well in the debates. I’m confident he did better against President Obama than any of the other GOP candidates would have done. It just was not meant to be this year.
Werth: You say it wasn’t meant to be. Judaism recognizes that God determines who governs a country. Why do you think God is giving Obama another four years?
Troy: God helps those who help themselves. It is up to us to make things happen, using the gifts that He has given us. The GOP just couldn’t make it happen this year. Let’s leave it at that.
Werth: Let’s talk about the GOP. What can Republicans learn from 2012? How can the next GOP candidate increase their chances of winning?
Troy: The GOP needs to do a better job of competing across demographic groups. Hispanics are a growing part of the electorate — increasing by 25% since 08, from 8 to 10 percent of voters — and Obama dominated in that category. Similarly, women were 53% of the electorate, and Obama won them as well. We need to expand our appeal beyond the white male base of support.
Werth: Any ideas on how to do that?
Troy: Still processing the loss from last night, but I will be working on it. Watch my writing in the months ahead.
Werth: Did you see a weakness in Romney’s campaign organization?
Troy: The Romney campaign was a good operation. It was 80-100 smart and committed folks against Obama’s 700 person Chicago behemoth. It was an uphill battle, but I am proud of the work they did.
Werth: Sheldon Adelson – the wealthiest Jew in the world – gave tens of millions to political advocacy groups to help Romney win. What impact did it have?
Troy: Obviously, not enough.
Werth: Critics of Adelson say something should be done to stop this kind of influence in the future.
Troy: The same people who say it’s terrible that Adelson spent so much, say it’s good when [liberal billionaire] George Soros does it. I don’t have a problem if someone wants to spend their own money helping a candidate. That’s the First Amendment of the Constitution. The funding of political advocacy groups helps the GOP counter-act the influence of the unions for the Democrats.
Werth: Let’s turn to the role of Jewish voters. How did their support of Romney compare to previous presidential elections?
Troy: We actually did pretty well in the Jewish vote, one of the few demographics in which we increased our numbers. McCain got 22% of the Jewish vote, while Romney got 32%. This is the first time in any presidential election since 1960 that the GOP got over 30% of the Jewish and still lost. The other three times were all GOP victories: 1980, 1984, and 1988.
Werth: What accounts for the increase in Jewish support for Romney?
Troy: Part of it is Jewish discomfort with Obama on Israel. But that by itself is not enough. Jews also need to be comfortable with the alternative, and Romney was an acceptable alternative for those Jews willing to desert their traditional Democratic home.
Werth: Still, seven out of ten Jews voted for Obama. This was so despite all the public criticism of Obama regarding his approach to Israel. The Republican Jewish Coalition also waged a clever media campaign to shift their vote. Given this, why did so many Jews continue to support Obama?
Troy: American Jews are quite liberal, and GOP strategists need to keep that in mind. Nobody is talking about a majority of Jews going for the Republicans in any realistic near future. The key is to minimize the Democratic margin among the Jews, and Romney was able to do that. As for why Jews are so liberal, whole books have been written on the subject.
Werth: During the campaign, Obama said in very strong language that he was committed to protecting Israel. He has also back-tracked on controversial stands, such as suggesting Israel return to 1967 borders. Has Obama really [come around on Israel?]
Troy: It’s a good question. He was very tough towards Israel during the first three years of his term, then softer this year. It could be full teshuvah (repentance) — or it could be election year politics. The question is: Will he revert?
Werth: Now Obama doesn’t have to worry about a re-election. Are you concerned he might revert to being tough on Israel?
Troy: Yes, Obama is not anchored to Israel in a way that makes me feel comfortable. I don’t agree that he is “anti-Israel.” Obama has a coldness towards Israel that we didn’t see in the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Werth: Why do you think that’s the case?
Troy: Growing up in Indonesia and Hawaii, he didn’t hear much about Israel. When he moved to the Chicago area, the Jews he knew were often critical of Israel.
Werth: Besides Obama, who was the biggest winner in the election?
Troy: Liberals won big. New Senators Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin will compete with each other for the title of most liberal Senator. Also, the politics of division won, as candidates can see that they can attack the other guy and win, even if they don’t have an agenda of their own.
Werth: The GOP aside, who lost the most in the election?
Troy: Israel is a big loser. We can handle defeat here in the US, but Israel lives in a much tougher neighborhood.
A version of this interview originally appeared in the US edition of Hamodia.