2016 Republican Presidential Candidates Searching for Pro-Israel Campaign Money
It’s over two years until the 2016 presidential election, but several Republicans are exploring presidential runs and several are already in the race for pro-Israel campaign donations from Jewish Republicans. This was evident last weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada, where the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) held its spring leadership conference. Four governors, who have been mentioned as possible Republican presidential candidates came to the conference to meet potential donors, especially Sheldon Adelson, one of the richest people in the world, the biggest political contributor in 2012, and an American Jew with a very strong pro-Israel stance.
Clearly Adelson overshadowed the conference this year. Adelson is a casino magnate and it was held in his hometown of Las Vegas. It was also held in one of his casinos, the Venetian. And, it was clear by looking at the guest list that included presidential possibilities and governors Jeb Bush (Florida), Chris Christie (New Jersey), Scott Walker (Wisconsin), and John Kasich (Ohio), that Adelson is looking for a presidential candidate to back. No wonder many called the conference the “Sheldon Primary.”
The importance of Adelson was put into perspective by Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary to President George W. Bush, and is a member of the RJC. Fleischer said, “The ‘Sheldon Primary’ is an important primary. … anybody running for the Republican nomination would want to have Sheldon at his side.” Adelson is the eighth richest man in the world according to Forbes Magazine. He and his wife spent $93 million supporting Republicans in 2012 – $15 million for the presidential nomination bid by Newt Gingrich and then $30 million supporting Mitt Romney.
Despite the spending, Gingrich failed to get the Republican nomination and Romney lost to Obama. That’s why Adelson is looking carefully for a 2016 candidate – one that can win.
Experience was clearly a criterion in picking the four governors who attended. Like most presidents of the recent past (from 1977 to 2009) they are governors. Given Obama’s lack of managerial skills, executive experience like that gained by a governor may be a critical issue, especially if the Democratic candidate is Hillary Clinton.
But, just as interesting is that each of these states has a sizable Jewish voter base – one that holds the balance of power. Anat Hakim, writing for the Los Angeles Times in 2008, identified “nine states where the size of the Jewish population was larger than the size of victory for either President Bush or Sen. John Kerry in 2004: Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.” Note that the four governors are all from the states listed. Note also that all four states went for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Clearly, Adelson wants a governor who can appeal to Jewish voters and who can win in states with sizable Jewish voting blocks.
Who Wasn’t Invited
Although it appears that Adelson is trying to pick a candidate that Republicans and Americans can support, there is clearly an agenda behind his moves. Several potential Republican candidates were clearly not on the agenda – Senators Cruz and Paul and Governors Perry, Huckabee, and Palin.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was obviously not going to be invited. He is on record as criticizing America’s support for Israel in the past. Although he is popular with the Republican grassroots, he obviously would not appeal to the pro-Israel RJC. And, as a senator, he lacks the executive experience that the four governors have and Adelson wants.
However, Paul has been the one candidate who has taken the Republican message out to typically Democratic strongholds to expand the Republican base. Paul has expended a great deal of effort in reaching out to blue-state voters. He is going straight for the most left-wing constituency by finding common ground in opposition to the National Security Agency and other aspects of the anti-terror apparatus that was built up hastily and excessively (according to its critics on both left and right) in the wake of the Sep. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was a more baffling non-invite. Although he lacks the executive experience of a governor, he is very vocal in his support of Israel – probably more than any of the candidates who were invited. He also polls well when Republicans are asked who they want to run for president.
Which is the problem. Senator Cruz is popular with Republican grassroots supporters, but his conservative stands are not in step with Adelson. That is also true for Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who consistently out polls Christie when Republicans are asked who they want as their presidential nominee.
Being considered too conservative is also the problem for Governor Perry of Texas, who became Texas’s governor when Clinton was still president and nearly has more executive experience than all of the four invited governors combined. The same conservative taint holds for Governor Palin, who in a recent poll was the one woman Americans want to run for President if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run in 2016.
The fact is that amongst the four governors who spoke, only one has any degree of the grassroots support that decides presidential primaries – Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. The Republican grassroots isn’t fond of dynasties and Governor Jeb Bush is the son of President Bush 41 and brother of President Bush 43 – neither conservative favorites. Christie’s faced doubts even before the investigation into the Ft.Lee traffic jam, especially on his stands on gun control and social issues. Kasich lost ground with the Republican base in his pleading for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.
Interestingly, although Walker is the most popular of the four governors with the Republican grassroots, his speech was the one not attended by Adelson. Adelson did sit in the front row for Christie and sat next to Kasich at lunch.
Which means that despite their money, Adelson and the other Jewish Republican donors may find themselves spending money on candidates out of step with the Republican base.
What Happened at RJC
Although the focus of the conference was the four governors, there was more. Briefings were given on recent polling and changes to the Republican primary process in 2016.
According to the briefings, the Republican presidential primary season will be shorter, with four states having the right to hold primaries in February. The other states will hold them in March, April, and May. The Republican National Convention will be held in late June or early July, which will allow them to start spending general election money.
This news was probably welcome to Adelson because a shorter primary season means a candidate with serious funding at the beginning has a better chance to win the nomination. That gives the Adelson backed candidate a serious advantage over other potential candidates.
Another change to the primary process is that the RNC will take control of the presidential debates during the primary much like Major League Baseball controls the televising and content of all baseball games. This should be neutral for all candidates, but should benefit the eventual nominee in the general election.
One downside for Adelson is the one that changed the rules imposed by Romney supporters at the convention in 2012. Those rules gave the Romney team the final say in who attended the convention as a voting delegate instead of the state parties. The rules have been changed back, and the state conventions and the grassroots delegates now have the final say on who attends and represents the states at the national convention. That means an Adelson candidate that is well funded, but has little grassroots support will face resistance at the national convention.
Finally, one embarrassing note for Nevada resident Adelson was the information that Nevada might lose its preferential treatment in the presidential primary process. Traditionally Nevada has been allowed to hold an early primary. However, as the state has evolved from Republican to Democratic, many in the Republican National Committee have argued that another Western state with Republican leanings be allowed to replace Nevada. That decision will be made at the next RNC meeting in May and there is a possibility that Arizona, which has traditionally held an early primary, may be the state to earn the privilege.
But, briefings aside, the main attractions were the speakers. Governor Bush, who is reportedly being pressured to make a presidential run, was the featured speaker at a VIP dinner last Thursday hosted by Adelson and his wife, Miriam. The dinner was held at the Sands’ private airplane hangar at Las Vegas Macarran International airport.
Christie, Walker and former U.N. ambassador John Bolton addressed the group during its meeting on Saturday morning, while Kasich spoke at a luncheon that day.
Clearly, the speakers were trying to say what the Jewish leadership wanted to hear. John Bolton, in what was seen as an attack on the attitude of Senator Paul towards Israel, said he fears the “rising tide of neo-isolationism within the Republican Party.”
Walker, who is not Jewish, noted that his son’s name, Matthew, is from the Hebrew word for “gift from God.” He later added that he decorates his residence with Christmas lights and a “menorah candle.”
Meanwhile, Kasich kept mentioning Adelson by name and closed his remarks by speaking directly to Adelson. He said, “In Ohio, we’re no longer fly-over [country], Sheldon. We want you to invest. We want you to get to know us. Sheldon, thanks for inviting me. I don’t travel to these things much, but this was one that I thought was really, really important.”
No one was more deferential to the RJC than Christie. Christie, a Catholic, said he was overwhelmed by displays of religious tolerance during a recent trip to Jerusalem.
But, it was another comment that caused a lot of hostility from the listeners. Gov. Chris Christie recounted his recent trip to Israel: “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories” and came “to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day.”
Christie’s effort at impressing his listeners boomeranged. An angry Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America confronted Christie to demand that he explain just what he meant by “occupied territories.”
Whatever Christie’s response, it did not satisfy the ZOA or Klein who declared: “Either [Christie] doesn’t understand the issue, or he’s hostile to Israel.”
With his visit to Las Vegas falling apart, Christie asked for a private audience with Adelson to apologize. A source close to Adelson told reporters that Christie made clear “that he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.”
Of course, it isn’t just the four governors who attended the meeting that are changing their positions on Israel. Rand Paul has told top GOP donors that he is “evolving” on foreign policy, particularly when it comes to his positions on Israel. He has also increased his outreach to prominent pro-Israel donors to show he is interested in having a dialogue.
However, that may not be enough. Several RJC donors have said that they will spend money to defeat Rand in the primaries. Undoubtedly, Adelson would be one of them.
Who Wins the Sheldon Primary and Does it Mean Anything?
Although each of the four governors had a chance to meet personally with Adelson, there is no idea of which one will eventually get the nod. Christie was an early favorite, but has recently fallen – both with the investigation into the Ft.Lee traffic jam and with his political positions to the left of the Republican base. Donors at the RJC were decidedly cool about Christie now.
That probably leaves Bush as the next in line – providing Bush is willing to throw his hat into the ring. But, there is no excitement in the Republican base about Jeb Bush.
But, there is more to the election than Adelson money. The history of American politics is replete with candidates with money, who fail to win. Hillary Clinton had the money in 2008, but lost to Obama. George Bush Sr. had more money and was considered more mainstream than Ronald Reagan.
The problem is that Adelson, with all of his money, is not looking at candidates that have Republican grassroots support. And, although money is the mother’s milk of politics, grassroots support is the t-bone steak of American politics. His group of potential candidates don’t poll much more (and frequently less) than Governor Palin. In fact, in a McClatchy poll in February that included Palin, she had the same support as Bush (8%), and more than Walker (7%) or Kasich (1%). Christie, who hadn’t seen his support erode with the bridge scandal, yet, had 13%. However, his recent ratings have been at 8%.
At this point of time, Rand Paul has the best grassroots organization in the Republican Party – thanks to the infrastructure built in the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns by his father. Cruz, Huckabee, and Palin have the national base to build a political machine should they choose to do so. The rest of the potential field (Santorum, Perry, Christie, Walker, Kasich, Jindal, and Ryan) have only small campaign teams limited to their own state.
As a member of the Bush family, Bush would be the natural heir to the Bush machine. However the Bush 2000 – 2004 team is long gone. In addition, many of the more experienced members of that team of 10 years ago have probably retired from active politics, which means building a new team.
If Adelson’s goal is to make pro-Israel candidates stronger, he may be making a big mistake. Polling shows Senators Cruz and Paul share some of the same voter base. However, Cruz is pro-Israel, while Paul isn’t. In that case, it would make more political sense for Adelson to support Cruz and, in the process, cripple Paul. However, it appears that Adelson is committed to what he perceives as a more “mainstream” Republican candidate.
In the end, despite the media’s theme, Adelson and other Jewish American donors will not be picking the next Republican presidential nominee. The money will be critical for advertising and buying a campaign team, but it will not buy grassroots enthusiasm. Adelson may be well served to look further abroad for a candidate that Republicans actually like.
The Pollard peace process farce
By Danielle Pletka
American Enterprise Institute
April 1, 2014
Word is that the United States is on the verge of releasing Jonathan Pollard, the former US naval analyst convicted of spying for Israel. There is no question that Pollard was guilty as charged, and he doesn’t claim any different. But the narrative over the years has evolved, with Israel at first denying he was spying for them to the point that the man and his release have become a cause celebre in the Jewish state. Are there mitigating circumstances? Yep, he’s in ill health. Has Pollard served three decades? Yep. Still, what the hell? Forgive me for believing that the peace process up to this point was not some game for the Israelis, and that security and sustainable peace were at the heart of concerns about how to move forward. Apparently not. Apparently, all that stuff about settlement expansion and natural growth and the rights of the Jewish people were all just a way of saying “no” to negotiations. If not, why trade away a Palestinian prisoner release and settlement freeze (the quo for the Pollard quid being reported) for a convicted spy who has nothing to do with peace? Either these are points of principle or they are points of negotiation.
How a Leftist Labor Union Helped Force Tunisia’s Political Settlement
By Sarah Chayes
March 27, 2014
On a Saturday afternoon last October, in an ornate, scarlet-draped convention center bedecked with flags and white flowers, Tunisian labor leader Houcine Abbassi presided over a signing ceremony that would mark his country’s destiny and perhaps that of the Arab world. “Thank you for heeding the nation’s call,” he told the leaders of two dozen political parties, before each stood to sign what has come to be called the Road Map. The event almost came off the rails. Some politicians were shocked to discover upon arriving that they would be forced to sign the document in front of television cameras—and thus be bound by its terms. On a tight calendar, the text called for three giant steps: the resignation of Tunisia’s entire cabinet and the appointment of a nonpartisan prime minister tasked to put together a new one, the formation of an independent election commission, and the modification and approval of a draft constitution.
The Complexities of U.S. Oil Exports
By Deborah Gordon
March 20, 2014
It’s unlikely that anyone can stop the flow of oil—one of the world’s most durable and sought-after resources. Nevertheless, since 1975, U.S. crude oil exports (with a few exceptions) have technically been banned. The president has executive authority to reverse the ban, but Congress and interest groups have begun to weigh in as U.S. oil production is projected to ramp up to 9.6 million barrels a day (bpd) in 2016—a peak not seen since 1970. Should the forty-year-old decision to ban U.S. crude oil exports be reversed? The right answer is murkier than those in favor or against suggest. In reality, it depends on what the new rules are for the array of new oils surfacing around the globe. Given the contentious politics surrounding this decision, a healthy debate is necessary to avoid falling into traps set by numerous unanswered questions.
The Islamic State of Iraq Returns to Diyala
By Jessica Lewis
Institute for the Study of War
Anbar is not the only front in Iraq on which Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), now operating as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), is fighting in 2014. ISIS has also established a governorate in Diyala. Its spokesman has named the province the central front in the sectarian conflict he has urged. The security situation and sectarian tension in Diyala province are grave. ISIS has returned to fixed fighting positions within Muqdadiyah, Baqubah, and the DiyalaRiverValley. Shi’a militias are now active in these areas as well. Increasing instances of population displacement demonstrate the aggregate effect of targeted violence by both groups. It is important to estimate the effects of this displacement and the presence of armed groups within Diyala’s major cities in order to understand how deteriorated security conditions in this province will interfere with Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary elections. Furthermore, violence in Diyala has historically both driven and reflected inter-ethnic and inter-sectarian violence in other mixed areas of Iraq, including Baghdad. Diyala is therefore a significant bellwether for how quickly these types of violence will spread to other provinces.
Erdoğan’s Secret to Success
By Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı
German Marshall Fund
April 2, 2014
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won yet another election victory in Monday’s municipal elections. While the results saw a five percent decline in support for his Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the 2011 parliamentary elections, it was also a 6 percent improvement over the AKP’s results since the last municipal elections in 2009. Erdoğan’s party will continue to control the metropolitan municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara (although the Ankara results are disputed and may yet be reversed), and it won a few new major cities such as Antalya, an important tourist destination on the Mediterranean. What makes this victory even more significant is that it came in the aftermath of several setbacks for the AKP: the GeziPark protests, a corruption and graft investigation against a group that included ministers’ family members, and a torrent of wiretaps that embarrassed the prime minister, his sons, his ministers, and businessmen close to him.
Understanding the Gulf States
By Simon Henderson
Money, they say, can’t buy you everything. But in the conservative Arab states of the Persian Gulf (or the Arabian Gulf as they prefer to call it), money can buy a lot. What is the tallest building in the world? The Burj al-Khalifa in the sheikhdom of Dubai. What is one of the best airlines in the world? Washington, DC friends vacationing in Asia recently chose to fly there with Qatar Airways via Doha. The newness of aircraft, quality of on-board service and well-timed connecting flight trumped any political misgivings, such as Qatar’s support for Hamas in Gaza and the weapons it gives to some of the worst jihadists in Syria.
Why Democracy in Egypt Still Matters
By Tamara Cofman Wittes
Three years after the hopeful scenes of the Arab Spring, the situation in places like Syria and Libya looks more like a tragic mess. The most dramatic reversal of fortune, perhaps, is in Egypt, whose Tahrir (Freedom) Square came to symbolize the hopes of 2011. Egypt under longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak was an anchor of stability in the region, in large part because of its close ties to Washington and its historic peace treaty with Israel. But Egypt today is in turmoil: Its third post-revolutionary government, installed by the military, is cracking down on basic rights while facing an upsurge in violence from Islamist militants, an economic crisis and vicious anti-Americanism stoked by the media. The decimated Muslim Brotherhood rejects any hint of compromise and talks to its followers of martyrdom. Many outside analysts worry that the zero-sum confrontation now underway in Egypt is dragging the country over a cliff into further violence.
Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor
National Security Affairs Analyst
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