Health Issues of Presidential Candidates Prompt Scrutiny of Running Mates’ Views on Israel
by Rafael Medoff / JNS.org
JNS.org – With questions surrounding the health of both presidential candidates in the spotlight, the positions of their running mates on Israel are attracting fresh scrutiny from the Jewish community.
Hillary Clinton’s medical episode at the 9/11 memorial, which her doctor has said was due to pneumonia, highlighted the candidate’s previous health problems, while the refusal of both Clinton and Donald Trump to release their full medical records fuels media speculation about the physical fitness of whoever will be America’s next commander-in-chief.
These concerns have led to a renewed look at the policies and opinions of their vice presidential picks — and potential successors.
“I think of this as the Horace Greeley conundrum,” Professor Gil Troy of McGill University told JNS.org. While no presidential candidate has ever died or been incapacitated in the middle of a race, Greeley — the 1872 nominee of the Liberal Republican party — came close: he passed away only weeks after election day, and before the Electoral College had balloted. Though Greeley had already lost in a landslide, “it does raise all kinds of cinematic scenarios,” according to Troy, the author of several books on American presidents and executive elections.
In the event of a health crisis during an election, a presidential candidate’s running mate does not automatically stand in his or her stead. However, it seems likely that the leaders of each party would indeed choose their vice presidential nominee as their new standard-bearer.
I believe Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence is widely regarded as having been a strong supporter of the Jewish state while in Congress and as the governor of Indiana. When he was a member of the House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013, Pence co-chaired the Congressional Task Force Against Antisemitism and sought to make US aid to the Palestinian Authority conditional on the PA’s adherence to the Oslo Accords.
As governor, Pence signed into law what Israel’s ambassador to the US called the “toughest anti-BDS legislation in the nation.” Pence was also part of a group of 15 Republican governors who publicly opposed the Iran nuclear deal.
Pence sees Israel as America’s ally in the war on terror and as an exemplar of American values.
At the same time, he makes no bones about the fact that his affection for Israel is anchored in his religious faith. “Like the overwhelming majority of my constituents, my Christian faith compels me to cherish the state of Israel,” he told the 2009 AIPAC national conference. As an evangelical Christian, Pence’s positions on some social issues are at odds with the views of most Jewish voters. Whether his share of the Jewish vote would rise above the 25-30 percent that other recent GOP nominees received would depend on whether most American Jews regard domestic or foreign policy as their priority this year.
Clinton’s running mate, Senator Tim Kaine, is “clearly an Obamian in his foreign policy approach,” Troy notes. Kaine supported the Iran agreement and was among the minority of Democrats who boycotted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2015 address to Congress.
“I knew not going to the speech might make some folks mad with me – there would be a political price,” he told The Forward at the time. “But I felt so strongly as a matter of principle that this was done in an entirely inappropriate way.”
Kaine addressed this year’s national conference of the political action group J Street. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, J Street contributed $123,812 to Kaine in the 2012 election cycle, and $44,901 this year, prior to his selection as the Democratic vice presidential nominee.
As governor of Virginia, Kaine provoked controversy with his 2007 appointment of Dr. Esam Omeish to the Virginia Commission on Immigration. YouTube videos showed Omeish declaring at a Palestinian rally in Washington that “the jihad way is the way to liberate your land” from “the brutal, aggressive regime of the Zionist entity in the Middle East.” As a result, Kaine asked for Omeish’s resignation from the commission.
Pundit Ari Feldman has argued that Kaine would be “the Jewiest” vice president. Writing in The Forward, Feldman cited Kaine’s support for Palestinian statehood; his hosting of the first-ever Passover seder as Virginia’s governor; the decision by the Sabra hummus company to open a factory in Virginia during his term in office; and the fact that the daughter and son-in-law of a prominent Virginia rabbi, Jack Moline, met when they were both working on Kaine’s campaign.
“Both Pence and Kaine would likely be responsive to the pro-Israel community,” veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf told JNS.org. “Realistically, however, world political realities will overtake whatever emotional ties any president might have with Israel,” according to Sheinkopf, whose clients have included former president Bill Clinton. “There simply is no savior and American Jews are deluding themselves and denying history should they think otherwise.”
Dying in office
It is noteworthy that there have been three instances in American history when health problems brought down a president.
William H. Harrison was stricken with pneumonia after delivering his two-hour 1841 inaugural address in a cold rain. He died after barely a month in office. The fact that Vice President John Tyler then ascended to the presidency had no notable impact on matters of Jewish concern, except that he was the first president to appoint an American consul to Palestine, which was then under Turkish occupation. The consul, Warder Cresson, was, like Tyler, an early Christian supporter of the idea of reviving the ancient Jewish homeland.
Woodrow Wilson suffered a major stroke in October 1919, late in his second term. Vice President Thomas Marshall never became president, however, because Wilson refused to acknowledge that he was incapacitated. First Lady Edith Bolling Galt Wilson and senior White House aides hid the severity of the president’s condition from the public and took over most of the decision-making during Wilson’s final months in office.
Senior aides to President Franklin D. Roosevelt successfully concealed his heart disease, chronic blood pressure and other ailments in order to ensure his reelection in 1944. FDR died in office in April 1945, just ten months after choosing Missouri senator Harry S. Truman to replace Henry Wallace as his vice president.
“The choice of a running mate by a presidential candidate can turn out to be very important,” Ronald Radosh, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, told JNS.org. He is the co-author of A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel.
“Had FDR chosen someone other than Truman as his vice president, the Palestine Jewish community might not have had the support of the United States when its leaders declared a Jewish state,” Radosh said. “Although Truman did not see fit to end the arms embargo to the Middle East, which meant Israel could not legally purchase US arms to fight the invading Arab armies, his recognition gave Israel legitimacy and allowed the US to offer it economic loans and aid. Some of the other hopefuls for the post would not have been so friendly to the Zionist cause.”