The Republican Jewish establishment is watching the surge of political outsiders — like Donald Trump and Ben Carson — in the presidential primaries with dismay.
“It’s like we have a conference call every morning, and we ask, ‘What can we do to screw ourselves up today?’” said Fred Zeidman, a longtime fundraiser for Republican presidential candidates.
Zeidman’s exasperation pervades the Jewish Republican world: A party that has, in recent years, established a cozy relationship with Jewish conservatives seems to be careening — at least since the presidential race began.
Donald Trump, the billionaire reality show star, has lobbed rhetorical bombs at Hispanics, women and GOP rivals, and promised to deport 11 million illegal immigrants. Ben Carson, the retired world-famous neurosurgeon, said this weekend that a Muslim can’t be president.
“This election is proving that nobody really knows anything, including me,” said Seth Mandel, the Op-Ed editor of the New York Post.
It’s a disorienting experience for longtime Republican Jewish donors and activists, who have made inroads into the party’s establishment over the last two decades, and who have been at the forefront of advocacy for tolerance and pluralism within the party.
“The tone of what they’re saying, we get painted as a party of intolerance,” said Zeidman, who practices law in the Houston area and backs Bush’s candidacy.
The anti-immigrant rhetoric especially infuriates Zeidman, a past chairman of the US Holocaust Memorial Council, who was driving near his home during his phone interview with JTA.
“I think half the people I’m looking at doing roadwork in 100-degree heat are not legal — and they are working their tuchus off,” he said.
Mandel said online that white supremacist backing for Trump — who has suggested immigrants from Mexico are predominantly criminals — has been unsettling. “That will always make Jews uncomfortable, that’s why there’s so much pushback” among some Jewish conservatives against the Trump candidacy.
Tevi Troy, a deputy health secretary in the President George W. Bush administration who is not yet backing a candidate, said one plus that’s emerging from the debates is that the entire range of candidates — insiders and outsiders alike — are pro-Israel and have embraced the party’s skepticism of the Iran nuclear deal.
Contrast that with previous Republican primary seasons, when disruptive outsiders were cool on Israel – notably in the 1990s, when Pat Buchanan ran twice, Troy said.
“Fortunately, the outsiders this time, just about all are exceedingly pro-Israel and that’s a good thing,” he said.
Still, he noted, for a constituency that has cultivated the Republican establishment, the emergence of outsiders is discomfiting.
The Republican Jewish Coalition’s board is a who’s who of the party’s most generous givers — most famously Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate.
Adelson has yet to come out for a candidate, the conventional wisdom being that he is waiting in order to avoid a repeat of 2012, when his bankrolling of long-shot Newt Gingrich ended up weakening the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney. But one of Adelson’s top allies, Mort Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, recently expressed concern over Trump’s behavior and lead in the polls.
“Trump is making many of us very nervous,” Klein told Talking Points Memo, speaking after Trump derided the black Carson’s skills as a physician. (Carson is a world-famous neurosurgeon.) “He doesn’t have the temperament to be president. I mean, really, to lash out at Carson as a talented doctor? You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Source: Times of Israel