The GOP Candidates: Who Will Draw the Jewish Vote?
When Jewish Republicans around the country enter the voting booth for 10 primaries and caucuses on March 6 for “Super Tuesday,” they will see three candidates who still have a puncher’s chance at securing the GOP presidential nomination.
In this unpredictable race that has seen multiple twists, turns, and momentum shifts, one thing is clear: nobody is backing down just yet.
“This is going to be a dogfight, I don’t think anybody is dropping out,” Richard Baehr, chief political correspondent for American Thinker, told JointMedia News Service. “I think the candidates will be well-funded enough to make it through for a while.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich have all expressed pro-Israel sentiments in public debates, leaving Jewish Republicans with the task of distinguishing them from each other to arrive at their candidate of choice.
Romney—the longtime frontrunner until surges first by Gingrich, and more recently Santorum—has used every opportunity to name his support of Israel as a Jewish State, and has been firm with the Palestinian leadership and Iran. He has expressed the desire to put pressure on the former to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, and to cease violence by Hamas and other terrorist groups in the region.
On Iran, Romney supports keeping the military option “on the table,” and imposing a fifth round of sanctions that would target the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Central Bank, and other financial institutions. He has also stated multiple times that there should be no preconditions on the Jewish state, and that it should be allowed to make decisions independently.
“The right course for us is not to try and negotiate for Israel,” Romney said at the Fox News/Google Debate in September 2011.
“[It is] to stand behind our friends, to listen to them and to let the entire world know that we will stay with them, and that we will support them and defend them,” he said.
Romney has also strongly criticized Obama and his administration for their behavior and policy toward Israel. He claimed that Obama “threw Israel under the bus,” for insisting that it should go back to the ’67 borders.
Tevi Troy—a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, the former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a former liaison to the Jewish community under the Bush administration, and a special and unpaid advisor to the Romney campaign—told JointMedia News Service that he sees a “significant contrast between [Romney’s] strong pro-Israel position and what we’ve seen as a consistent coldness in the Obama administration [on the issue of Israel].”
Troy specifically referred to “a number of unpleasant dustups between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations.” During Netanyahu’s visit to the White House last march, Obama controversially skipped a photo op with the Israeli President, and did not extend an invitation to dinner. Both are common practice during a presidential visit. Obama was also famously overheard blasting Netanyahu with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
“There were a number of these incidents that were not only unpleasant but discomforting to Jewish voters,” Troy said.
Romney has insisted that any such disagreements with any ally should be voiced behind closed doors.
“If you’ve got an issue with Bibi Netanyahu then sit down in private and hammer it out, but then come out, hold arms together and say ‘we’re together,'” Romney said in an interview with Fox News. “Because ultimately, if you don’t do that, then the foes of America, or of our allies around the world, they take courage from what they think is a split between us.”
Massachusetts U.S. Senator Scott Brown also named Romney’s skill in the economic sector as one of his great strengths. In an interview with JointMedia News Service, Brown touted Romney as “one of the nicest, honest, hard working men I’ve ever met.” He continued that when it comes to the economic issues “there’s no one who can handle them like him.”
According to Troy, Romney is the “total package.”
“[He is] the best option for Israel and a strong contrast to Obama in the fall,” Troy concluded.
A social and fiscal conservative known for his steady focus on U.S. policy towards Iran, Santorum has called the “theocracy in Iran” a “real existential threat to the state of Israel.”
Santorum, who introduced sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program back in 2004, said America needs to make it clear that it “will stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon. Period.” Santorum has also described the power of oil, saying that it “has given the capability of the radical Islamists to re-tool and re-arm, and to have capabilities increasingly equal to our own.”
Chris DeSanctis, an adjunct professor in the Department of Government and Politics at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, said Santorum, out of the three viable candidates, has been the most “consistent as far as his viewpoint and worldview on government.”
“He’s supported conservative causes from social issues to fiscal issues to his support for Israel unwaveringly throughout the years,” DeSanctis, a supporter of Santorum in his personal rather than professional life, told JointMedia News Service.
DeSanctis said “you can trust Santorum a lot more than you can the other two candidates,” calling him the only candidate in the field who is forcefully “talking about the external threat to Israel in regards to terrorism.”
The former Speaker set a tone as perhaps the most outspoken pro-Israel candidate in this race by calling the Palestinians an “invented” people in an interview with The Jewish Channel. Though “there’s always a little bit of pandering” during election season, Gingrich’s statement was historically accurate and “he can defend pretty much everything he says,” according to Baehr.
“He does know the history, and I think he’s taken it seriously,” Baehr said, adding that Gingrich “made support for Israel a prime issue for Republicans in Congress, and when they took control of the Senate and the House in 1994, it became high on their agenda.”
Gingrich also has the support of noted Jewish philanthropist and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has already contributed $11 million to Gingrich’s super PAC. Adelson is expected to donate at least $10 million more, recently telling Forbes “I might give $10 million or $100 million to Gingrich.”
Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton Klein told the Associated Press that Gingrich has been known as “one of the few politicians who has had the courage to tell the truth about Israel,” identifying that as the reason for Gingrich’s relationship with Adelson.
Who has the Jewish vote?
According to Dr. Ira Sheskin, director of the Jewish Demography Project of the Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Jewish Studies at the University of Miami, Romney’s appeal to Jewish voters extends beyond his stance on Israel and Iran. Of the three likely Republican candidates, Romney will most likely capture the most Jewish votes, he says.
“Everyone knows he is kind of a moderate on a lot of things and consequently he could do a lot better than the other two,” Sheskin said in a phone interview with JointMedia News Service. Santorum, Sheskin continued, has the worst chance of the Republican candidates to win Jewish votes due to his conservative views on social issues.
“If [he] gets the Republican nomination, they’re going to do as badly as the Democrats did when they nominated George McGovern. He will do miserably in the general election, but even more so in the Jewish vote.”
Gingrich is somewhere between the two, Sheskin concluded, as he is conservative but known for his ability to compromise.
Baehr noted that there are many Jewish Republicans “who are more moderate on social issues, which kind of reflects the [Jewish] community in general, both Democrats and Republicans,” which works against Santorum’s chances.
Though Gingrich “has the most emotional level of [Jewish Republican] support” because he’s been more outspoken than the other two candidates, Romney remains the “slight favorite” to be nominated, according to Baehr.
“[Romney] is probably the second favorite among Jewish Republicans, but probably the favorite among Jews who might consider voting for a Republican who are not typically Republican,” Baehr concluded, “and I think Santorum comes in third in part just because he wears his social conservatism on his sleeve, and that makes a lot of moderates on social issues or liberals on social issues in the Jewish community nervous.”