Last week’s daylong Republican Jewish Coalition-sponsored candidates’ forum generated a fair amount of interest and comment. While the “mainstream” Republican presidential candidates largely pitched their cases as expected, two of the current “leading” candidates did not. In the case of Donald Trump — who is now said to be leading his closest competitor by at least 20 percentage points — his presentation included the use of questionable, unflattering Jewish stereotypes along with a remarkable tone-deafness on foreign policy issues regarding Israel. And in the case of the quickly disappearing Ben Carson, his address to the 700 Republicans appeared to get some of its statistics from the darkest reaches of the blogosphere.
While some pundits have used Trump’s boorish remarks as evidence that he is anti-Semitic, we disagree. But he has, once again, shown himself to be a nondiscriminatory demagogue who lacks a sensitivity filter.
Thus, while it is nice that Trump’s daughter is an observant Jew — and explains why he complained to the RJC crowd that he can’t call his daughter on Saturdays — that doesn’t give him a pass to insult his Jewish audience by telling them things like: “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money,” since Jewish voters “want to control” their politicians; or what savvy moneymakers they are. “This room negotiates deals,” he said, “perhaps more than any room I’ve ever spoken to.”
And then there was the matter of Israel and Jerusalem. Just a couple of hours after he told the Associated Press that he had some doubts about Israel’s will to compromise for peace, Trump was asked a direct question at the candidate forum about the status of Jerusalem in a final peace deal. In his response, Trump refused to answer the question and didn’t pledge to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, which earned him boos.
When Ben Carson got his chance, he came up short. First, he literally read his presentation to the audience. And in the portion about Israel, he attempted to downplay Palestinian suffering with dubious statistics. According to Carson, of “11 million” Muslims killed in violent conflicts in that region, “only 35,000 have been killed” as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Where did that come from?
Trump and Carson are the men leading the polls to be the Republicans’ next presidential nominee. This should worry Jewish Republicans. If the Republican Party doesn’t nominate a mainstream candidate, there is good reason to be concerned that the Jews who the Republican National Committee says are drifting to the GOP may seek refuge among the Democrats 11 months from now. And, in doing so, they won’t be alone.