Republican candidates made their pitches for support at the annual Republican Jewish Coalition event in Washington, D.C.
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 are scheduled to attend.
“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 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?”
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, “only 35,000 have been killed” as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.