Updated Friday, Dec. 4, 2015
Nearly 700 Jewish Republicans gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington, D.C., on Thursday to hear from Republican presidential candidates. The forum, sponsored by the Republican Jewish Coalition, is the only event outside of the debates in which the 14 remaining candidates were scheduled to attend.
(UPDATE: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) missed his slotted time due to a vote. RJC offered him the opportunity to appear later in the program, but he did not.)
“We absolutely need a Republican president in the White House,” said David Flaum, RJC national chairman, to thunderous applause. “We cannot elect someone like Hillary Clinton who will not protect Americans in harm’s way or answer the phone at 3 in the morning.”
The RJC, Flaum said, is “preparing to execute the most well-funded and advanced campaign ever undertaken in the Jewish community, so that [the community knows] that only a Republican can protect our interests at home and abroad.”
What follows is a snapshot of each candidate. Please check back for updates.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
“I believe this nation needs a wartime president to defend it,” said Cruz. He went on to criticize the president, calling him the “most antagonistic president to the State of Israel in our nation’s history.” He laid into Secretary of State John Kerry for calling Israel an apartheid state.
“When Kerry called Israel an apartheid state, I went to the Senate floor and called for his resignation. And I would note that we need more senators, both Republicans and Democrats” held accountable for when “the secretary of state undermines our allies.”
Playing to the staunchly pro-Israel crowd, Cruz said that in his administration, universities engaging in the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel would be stripped of federal funds; that on his first day in office, he would begin the process of moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; and that he would “rip to shreds” the Iran nuclear agreement.
“I do trust the Iranians,” said Cruz. “When the Ayatollah Khamenei burns Israeli and American flags and says ‘Death to America,’ I trust that he means it.”
He continued, “The next president needs to have the fortitude to say to the Ayatollah Khamenei in no uncertain terms: Either you stop your nuclear weapons program or we will stop you.”
In response to a question comparing his one Senate term to Obama having only one Senate term, Cruz said, “Obama isn’t a bad president because he was a first-term senator. Barack Obama is an unmitigated socialist who won’t stand up and defend the United States of America.”
He repeatedly contrasted himself with Obama and Clinton, saying that he cannot wait to take a debate stage with the former secretary of state.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
In his unhurried Southern drawl, Graham started slow but finished strong by detailing, in his opinion, the two demographics where Republicans have lost ground: young women and Hispanics.
Graham queried the room: Should there be an abortion exception for pregnancies that result from rape and incest? “If you’re going to tell a woman that she has to carry the child of a rapist, you’re going to lose an election,” he emphasized.
As for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, Graham said that Republicans aren’t losing elections because “we’re not hard-ass enough on immigration — I believe we’re losing the Hispanic vote because they think we don’t like them.” He would have undocumented immigrants pay a fine and face restrictions on getting a green card.
Graham rejected Cruz’s notion that Republicans need to drive more evangelicals to the polls by running to the right rather than the center.
“Do you really want to win this election?” he said to a resounding “Yes,” from the audience. “Then take what we say seriously and push back when we make no sense.”
On the Middle East, Graham said he has the know-how to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and would put the United Nations “on notice that if they keep coming after Israel they won’t get a dime of American taxpayer money.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
The young Republican who is reportedly favored by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a financial backer of the RJC, hit all the right notes with the conservative crowd. (Adelson’s wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, Yahoo News reported, favors Cruz.)
He condemned the European Union for labeling products made in “Judea and Samaria,” using the biblical term for the West Bank.
“We need a president who is not afraid to call this what it is: This is anti-Semitism.” And anti-Semitism, he continued, hides behind anti-Israeli sentiment in the form of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which, he said, “reeks of hypocrisy,” particularly on college campuses.
Like the other Republican hopefuls, Rubio pledged to tear up the Iran agreement and re-impose congressional sanctions. He chided Obama for confusing “our allies for adversaries.” He added that “the days of giving the ayatollah of Iran more respect than the Prime Minister of Israel are over my first day in office,” in reference to Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before congress last spring that the president, vice president and a number of Democrats boycotted.
Former Gov. George Pataki (R-N.Y.)
Pataki began with the question on everyone’s mind: Why is he still in this race?
“Let me tell you seriously why I am: [Because] we have to win this race … we have to beat Hillary Clinton!” said Pataki.
“We have to elect someone who isn’t going to talk about all the things they’re going to do,” he said, adding that the country needs someone who “will go out and get it done.”
Getting it done for Pataki means reducing the size of the federal government by 15 percent, cutting Obamacare, cutting Common Core, scaling back the Environmental Protection Agency and prosecuting any IRS employee involved with targeting Republican and conservative groups.
In the fight against ISIS extremists, Pataki would “arm, supply and support” Kurds and Yazidis.
Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio)
For Kasich, supporting Israel is a family affair. He said that he can’t wait to take his 15-year-old daughters to Jerusalem, which he describes as a “shining city” — a direct reference and homage to Reagan, whose appropriation of the John Winthrop quote about America being a “shining city on a hill” is one of his most enduring legacies. (Virtually every candidate at the event referenced Reagan as well, a testament as much to his lasting impact on the party as to the location.)
Terrorism, said Kasich, is “destroying our way of life.” He was incredulous that the “president went to Paris and said, ‘We’re going to fight terrorism by taking on climate change.’ ”
Kasich stated that were he in Obama’s shoes, he would be meeting with all the countries that make up NATO to form a coalition that will destroy ISIS. He would engage with moderate Arab allies like Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf States to counter extremism.
The United States, he said, is absent in Ukraine, absent in the Balkans, and seemingly powerless against Chinese aggression. America needs to lead, he told the audience.
“When America leads, people follow.”
Donald Trump, businessman
“You just like me because my daughter is Jewish,” Trump joked. “I can’t reach her on Saturday anymore. I call and call and she doesn’t answer.”
(Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism prior to her marriage to Jared Kushner in 2009.)
As has come to be expected on the campaign trail, Trump boasted of his negotiating skills and his ability to self-fund his campaign.
“You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money,” said Trump. “I would love your support, but I don’t want your money.”
Trump estimated it would take six months to put together a deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I’m a dealmaker. I will know very quickly … if I’ll be able to put this deal together,” said Trump. However, he wasn’t sure if either Israel or the Palestinians “has the commitment” to make such a deal. He quickly added that Israel is not given credit for what they’ve given up.
Trump was booed when he refused to say that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of the Jewish State. He said he’d need to talk about it first with Netanyahu, who, Trump reminded the crowd — as he had in Manassas, Va., the night before —had called on the businessman to make a commercial for his re-election bid.
“Don’t worry about it. You’re going to be happy, OK?”
UPDATE: The Democratic National Committee seized on Trump’s comments – “Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t negotiate deals? Probably more than any room I’ve ever spoken,” he said – labeling them anti-Semitic in an email with the subject line: “Oy vey: Republican Jewish Coalition speeches included some meshugah claims about Jews.”
Dr. Ben Carson
Carson, the last candidate to speak before the marathon forum broke for lunch, gave the audience a recap of the modern State of Israel’s history.
Speaking directly from his written comments, Carson failed to elicit the emotional response other candidates enjoyed even when referencing his faith.
He did garner some applause when he said the conversation surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian was flawed. Carson said “lasting peace” should center on what a future Israeli state should look like rather than what a future Palestinian state should look like.
U.S. foreign policy, he said, must ensure that Israel comes out of negotiations “as a Jewish state for generations to come.”
He dismissed the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of ongoing strife throughout the Middle East. According to Carson, of the millions of Muslims killed in violent conflicts in that region, “only35,000 have been killed” as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.)
The former governor and devout Christian focused on faith in his polished speech, declaring that Israel is the “providence of God.” Though he assured the audience that his support for the Jewish state is not predicated on Christian end times.
Huckabee has escorted “literally thousands” of people to Israel and warned that if Israel loses its freedom then “the United States better buckle up” because after catastrophe hits Israel, he said, it will happen here.
There is no two-state solution for Huckabee because “there cannot be two states holding for the same piece of real estate,” he said, especially when one party does not believe the other has the right to exist, “even peacefully.” Huckabee would not put pressure on Israel to stop building settlements.
He called the Iranian deal “an act of idiocy that we must reverse.”
“I only have one thing more to add: vote for me. And if you want to give generously to me, okay,” he said in contrast to Trump.
Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.)
As he has throughout his campaign, Christie portrayed himself as Mr. National Security, recalling his time as a United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey.
Security, he said is “only achieved if we’re willing to rebuild our military. It’s only achieved if we’re willing to support our law enforcement community. Anyone who tells you any differently is absolutely playing with fire.”
On Israel, Christie recalled having dinner with the Netanyahu family in April 2012. He assured the Israeli prime minister that should Christie win the election Israel would have “no better friend” than the United States. “There is no moral equivalency with the conflict in the Middle East and they need to know that if Israel is threatened there will not be daylight between the United States and Israel.”
Christie called out Paul, with whom he has frequently sparred over the NSA data collection program. The N.J. governor said Paul was ignorant of how the program works and how the data is utilized.
Paul wants to collect data on terrorists, not American citizens. “How will you know?” said Christie. “Terrorists don’t wear sandwich boards that say ‘I’m a terrorist and I want to hurt America.’”
He spoke passionately about being pro-life beyond the nine months in the womb. Those in the pro-life camp, he said, need to be pro-life for the 16 year-old drug addict and the 40-something year-old man who has lost everything.
“I’m pro-life for the whole life, no matter what mistakes you’ve made.”
Former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-Va.)
The self-described “wartime governor” began by reading the definition of kishkes. (The recipe, he said sounded like “the Republican campaign for the nomination!”)
Joking aside, Gilmore presented a dim view. “The world is breaking down. … we’re under assault at home. The free market system is under assault at home.”
He trotted out his credentials as a veteran (Graham, he said, was only an Air Force lawyer, while he was stationed overseas during the Cold War) and as governor of Virginia during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“I am the candidate to keep us safe,” he said. Acknowledging that he hasn’t gotten as much attention in this race he said, “I may be an outsider, but ladies and gentlemen, in this time of crisis I am no amateur.”
He took a strange detour by mentioning that he watched “Schindler’s List” the night before, but got back on track by expounding on the dual dangers of Russia and ISIS.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.)
No one could accuse Bush of being “low energy.”
“Candidates should not speak with grandiosity without backing it up,” he said in a clear swipe at Trump. Where Trump fumbled on foreign policy, Bush succeeded and was met with appreciative applause.
On the Syrian refugee crisis, he proposed creating safe zones inside Syria, putting Assad outside Syria, re-engaging with Sunni tribal leaders and working with the Kurds. He warned that ISIS has a “caliphate the size of Indiana.”
The United States, he said, has a duty to protect the oppressed. Yazidis, Christians and Jews in the Middle East need protecting.
“But for us, who? Who but the United States will stand for the discriminated, for the oppressed?”
Israel needs to know that “we have their back.” On day one, he pledged to repair the “ruptured relationship with Israel” by announcing the move of the United States embassy to Jerusalem. He would not put pressure on Israel to make peace until the Palestinian Authority recognizes the right of Israel to exist within secure borders.
He pledged to combat the BDS movement and said he would use the presidential bully pulpit to be on the side of people “who only want to act on their religious beliefs.”
He condemned political correctness, disputed the notion that the left has the monopoly on compassion and praised his older brother for keeping Americans safe.
Bush took one final dig at Trump by saying, “The next president of the United States better have a servant’s heart.” And added, “If I should win this nomination, I will take it to Hillary Clinton and whup her.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.)
Santorum, like Gilmore, presented a nihilistic view of the world. “We’re at the beginning of WW III” he told the audience.
He told the audience that he was listed in an ISIS publication as one of their enemies. “They know who I am and I know who they are. That’s because I’ve been fighting radical Islam since before it was fashionable.”
Santorum would be willing to oblige Iran’s vision of “apocalyptic Islam” by bombing them back to the 7th century. He would work with Sunni Muslims in Iraq to take back Sunni ground. Unlike most Americans, he said, he knows the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Israelis do, too, he said, “because their lives depend on it.”
“Whether we like it or not, we’re in a holy war and we better act like we know what we’re doing.”
Carly Fiorina, businesswoman
At the end of a long day of speeches, Fiorina rallied the audience by declaring, “In your hearts, you can’t wait for me to debate Hillary Clinton.”
These are perilous times, she said, and “we are missing leadership from the White House, and indeed, Hillary Clinton has not exhibited leadership on any of these issues.
The issues being: defeating ISIS and radical Islam. She tied the refugee crisis and “the murder, the mayhem” in Paris, Beirut and San Bernardino to the current administration.
“I believe we have come to a pivotal point, citizens, where we need to take our country back.”
Fiorina believes she is the woman for the job, given her background in business, technology and global charity. She said she attained the highest security clearance a civilian can be awarded and has met with world leaders, including Putin.
On her first day in office she would make two calls. The first to Netanyahu and the second to the supreme leader of Iran. She would tell the ayatollah: “New president, new deal.”