GOP Candidates and their Jewish Donors

April 23, 2015

3 min read

Ronn Torossian

This weekend’s Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas is sure to address the words of Jeff Jacoby, the op-ed editor of the Boston Globe who famously wrote that “liberalism has superseded Judaism as the religion of most American Jews.” Those attending the GOP kosher love-fest are sure to discuss the question of where Jewish votes – and money – will swing for the 2016 election cycle.

April’s New York Times front-page feature story, “G.O.P.’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift”, emphasized how the Israel issue has moved more Jewish money to the  GOP – and while

Numerous studies have noted that Jewish-Americans donate more to charity than people of other faiths, that is part of the reason Israel attracts over-sized importance in politics.  While Israel affects the votes of very few swing voters, the pro-Israel community has an outsized impact when it comes to donating funds. Partially because of values and ideology, partially because of religion – and perhaps largely because of money Israel matters more.

While the NY Observer accurately reported I was among a handful of attendees at an early private gathering with Senator Ted Cruz,  I can attest first-hand knowing many of the Jewish GOP mega-donors that supporting a candidate for President is about more than just Israel.  My friends, Sheldon & Miriam Adelson are passionate Americans who care about many issues, hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer is an outspoken advocate for gay rights, and Dr. Irving & Cherna Moskowitz are philanthropists active on issues involving healthcare, taxes – and Israel. (Former UN Ambassador John Bolton’s PAC received a $300K check from Mrs. Moskowitz according to Politico.)

These donors  – and other GOP supporters – seek a candidate that can beat Hillary Clinton in a general election, which is no small task.  Of course, money matters – New Yorkers by far give the most funds to candidates in the Presidential race. CNN reports that both Jeb Bush & Governor Scott Walker will both be in the Empire State this week – and most candidates gather the vast majority of their resources at the outset of the campaign.  The trajectory of their campaign is often then determined by how much they deplete, and how much they can hold on to sustain them to the primaries.  As a New Yorker, as much as I can’t stand candidates coming to town due to traffic, the reality is those who maintain strong relationships here will gather more support as campaigns gain strength – and with flash points in the Middle East regularly in the media, Israel is a center point of that.

Since 1964, the Republican nominee has been a candidate whose ideological wingspan encompasses the entire range of the Republican Party.  No candidate has been successful by confining themselves to either wing of the party without securing the comfort of most of the party.  Undoubtedly, that is even more relevant when it comes to securing support from the mega-Jewish donors who are not ideologically in-sync with the right of the GOP.  While there are a number of 2016 candidates who will compete for particular segments of party support, the GOP – and mega-Jewish donors – if they wish to win, they must choose a candidate who can compete for the entire spectrum and give Republicans the best chance to defeat Hillary Clinton in the general election.

Perhaps one non-traditional option would be the last Republican Governor to win the Jewish vote – George Pataki.  In 2004, Pataki, a moderate Republican governor, won re-election with a majority of Jewish votes.” The New York Times revealed he also received almost 50 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2002.  NY Hispanics aren’t your usual Hispanics.  They are mostly liberal Puerto Ricans and not more conservative Cubans or Mexicans who are key to winning a national election with America’s changing demographics.  As the NY Times noted at the time, “the Republicans succeeded in driving a wedge in the black-Latino coalition that has come together in the past to support Democratic candidates.”

Author Norman Podhoretz wrote in “Why Are Jews Liberal” that “To most American Jews, then, liberalism is not, as has often been said, merely a necessary component of Jewishness: it is the very essence of being a Jew. Nor is it a ‘substitute for religion’: it is a religion in its own right, complete with its own catechism and its own dogmas and, Tertullian-­like, obdurately resistant to facts that undermine its claims and promises.” 

Yet, non-Liberal Jews – including Adelson, Singer & Moskowitz  – reject those dogmas in favor of a strong and secure Israel and are increasingly looking to the GOP.

Earlier this month, The Jerusalem Post reported that “In the summer of 1994, no one believed that soon to be Governor George Pataki would win election. The candidate himself seemed resigned to defeat and likely viewed the gubernatorial nomination as a stepping stone to other things beyond the actual race. He visited the Ohel and stated that for the first time, he felt like he was going to win. His upset was the biggest shock of the 1994 election and he went on to be New York’s governor for 12 years.”

The Ohel is the grave of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson – the Lubavitcher Rebbe – who is regarded as the most influential Rabbi of the 20th Century. Many believe that by visiting his grave and praying, one can see miracles answered.

While the miracle of the Jewish community voting for a GOP majority is not likely to come in 2016, I am sure every GOP candidate will continue seeking – and praying – for Jewish money.

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