Israel stood on the sideline for most of the Aug. 6 primetime Republican Presidential Primary Debate at Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland.
That changed an hour and 43 minutes in when Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was asked about his previous proposal to cut all financial aid to Israel.
Paul didn’t back off that stance Instead, he said the United States shouldn’t give foreign aid until it had a surplus to take from. He said even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel will be stronger when it is independent.
“Out of your surplus, you can help your allies, and Israel is a great ally,” Paul said. “We cannot give away money we don’t have. We do not project power from bankruptcy court.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stood in semi-disagreement.
“I absolutely believe that Israel is a priority to be able to fund and keep them strong and safe after eight years of this presidency,” Christie said.
Matt Borges, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said that Israel is hardly the only issue that matters to Jewish voters, but it is one that presents a stark contrast.
“There couldn’t be any starker contrast about where we stand and where the Democrats stand on this thing right now,” Borges told the Cleveland Jewish News.
The American Jewish vote has gone to the Democratic Party in every election since 1920, although the Republican Party came relatively close in 1980 (6 percentage points). After reaching a low at 11 percent in 1992, Republicans have slowly increased their chunk of the Jewish vote in recent elections, losing 69 percent to 30 percent in 2012.
While it isn’t necessarily clear that American Jewish voters are against the recently forged Iran deal, the leading Republican candidates came out against it in unison.
A small Los Angeles Jewish Journal poll of 501 American Jews taken in July showed that 49 percent of American Jews supported an agreement “in which the United States and other countries would lift major economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons,” compared to just 31 percent who were opposed. A majority (53 percent to 35 percent) said they supported congressional approval.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he’d terminate the deal on day one if he were elected.
“It’s another example of the failed foreign policy of the Clinton-Obama doctrine,” Walker said.
Like Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO, said earlier in the evening, Paul faulted how President Barack Obama negotiated.
“I don’t think the president negotiated from a position of strength,” Paul said. “I think President Obama gave away too much too early.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee brought up the Ronald Reagan aphorism, “trust, but verify,” accusing Obama of a “trust, but vilify” approach that criticizes all who oppose the pact.
“We got nothing, and Iran gets everything they want,” Huckabee said. “The world has a burgeoning nuclear power.”
Frontrunner Donald Trump, real estate mogul, agreed.
“If Iran was a stock, you folks should go out and buy it right now,” Trump said. “What’s happening in Iran is a disgrace, and it’s going to lead to destruction in large portions of the world.”
An overly soft policy was also discussed in regard to ISIS.
“We will not defeat radical Islamic terrorism so long as we have a president unwilling to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said. “What we need is a commander-in-chief that makes clear if you join ISIS, if you wage jihad on America, then you are signing your death warrant.”
Cruz recalled that the Iranian hostages were released right after Reagan took office in his argument for a stronger foreign policy.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he wouldn’t have gone to war in Iraq knowing what he knows today, but blamed Obama’s abandonment of Iraq for creating a void that allowed ISIS to grow.
“We need to take out ISIS with every tool at our disposal,” Bush said.
Borges said Ohio Gov. John Kasich stood out for his foreign policy experience, including nearly two decades on the Armed Services Committee, which he stressed Aug. 6.
“It stands out from others, because he’s the only one who can talk about it,” Borges said. “The only thing he has to do to differentiate himself from the other candidates is talk about his record, because his record differentiates himself.”
Social Security also was a key topic, with Huckabee and Christie disagreeing slightly over how to fix the system. Christie advocated increasing the retirement age by two years over a 25-year period.
“We need to go at the fundamental problem, and the fundamental problem is that the system is broken,” Christie said.
Huckabee argued against punishing Social Security recipients, many of who have contributed to Social Security throughout their lifetimes.
“Whose fault is it that the system is screwed up?” Huckabee said. “Is it the recipient’s or is it the government’s?”
Jonah L. Rosenblum is a staff reporter for Cleveland Jewish News.