Prominent Republican Jews question loyalty to party under Trump
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Prominent Republican Jews question loyalty to party under Trump

RJC offers cool support for billionaire left alone in the race, while others say they’re standing by the GOP unless the candidate crosses a line

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Donald Trump attends a press conference with members of the Veteran Police Association in Staten Island, New York, on April 17, 2016. (AFP Photo/Kena Betancur)
Donald Trump attends a press conference with members of the Veteran Police Association in Staten Island, New York, on April 17, 2016. (AFP Photo/Kena Betancur)

WASHINGTON — The Republican Jewish Coalition congratulated GOP frontrunner Donald Trump on becoming the presumptive nominee of the party on Wednesday, minutes before Trump’s final rival, Ohio Governor John Kasich, officially announced the termination of his campaign. The RJC offered a cool endorsement of the frontrunner who has divided Jewish conservatives, many of whom have publicly announced that they can not support the real-estate mogul’s bid for the presidency.

“The Republican Jewish Coalition congratulates Donald Trump on being the presumptive Presidential nominee of the Republican Party,” RJC National Chairman David Flaum wrote in a statement.

Rather than champion Trump’s assets as a candidate, Flaum instead went on to attack the presumptive Democratic nominee, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

“Throughout the course of this long campaign among Republicans there has been unity in the belief that Hillary Clinton is the worst possible choice for a commander in chief,” Flaum continued. “Secretary Clinton has proven time and again through her record and her policies that her candidacy will compromise our national security, weaken our economy and further strain our relationship with our greatest ally Israel.”

“Along with the Presidential race, the RJC will be working hard to hold on to our majorities in the Senate and the House. It is critical that these majorities be preserved,” Flaum added, concluding that “to do this we must remember our core principles: peace through strength, unwavering support for Israel and robust American leadership at home and abroad.”

The statement seemed to gesture to the concerns aired by commentators that a Trump candidacy would have a negative impact on contests termed “down ticket” races – Republicans competing in close matches to hold on to their parties’ narrow majority in the Senate.

Trump defeated his closest remaining contender, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, in Tuesday’s Indiana primary. Cruz, who had the support of a number of prominent Jewish Republicans, announced shortly after the polls closed that he was suspending his presidential campaign.

In doing so, Cruz paved the way for a seemingly uncontested Trump candidacy during the GOP’s July convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

But for some prominent Jewish conservatives, Cruz’s withdrawal from the race marked a watershed moment for their Republicanism.

Former George W. Bush administration official Eliot Cohen and Reagan administration official Robert Kagan have both already joined the ranks of former GOP appointees who will not support a Trump candidacy.

Some took their opposition to a Trump candidacy even further Tuesday night, especially after the party’s institutions seemed to reconcile itself to its inevitability.

Peter Wehner, a veteran of both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations prior to becoming deputy director of speech writing and then head of the Office of Strategic Initiatives for President George W. Bush in 2001, criticized Republican National Committee head Reince Priebus’s call for party unity Tuesday night.

Conservative commentator Peter Wehner in April 2016 (YouTube screenshot)
Conservative commentator Peter Wehner in April 2016 (YouTube screenshot)

Shortly after Cruz’s concession, Priebus tweeted that Trump “will be presumptive @GOP nominee,” adding that “we all need to unite and focus on defeating @HillaryClinton #NeverClinton.”

Wehner responded, also on Twitter, that Priebus “says to Republicans ‘we all need to unite’ around Trump. With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, no we don’t. And no we won’t.”

“Trump will win the nomination. Now true R[epublican]s/conservatives need to keep explaining why he’s neither and doesn’t deserve/won’t get our support,” he wrote. “Trump has won — and the Republican Party is broken. And it’s self-inflicted.”

This photo taken Jan. 15, 2015 shows Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus speaking at the Republican National Committee meetings in San Diego. Republicans meeting in California have re-elected party chairman Priebus, a once little-known Wisconsin lawyer who supporters say has turned the GOP organization around. (photo credit: AP/Lenny Ignelzi)
This photo taken Jan. 15, 2015 shows Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus speaking at the Republican National Committee meetings in San Diego. Republicans meeting in California have re-elected party chairman Priebus, a once little-known Wisconsin lawyer who supporters say has turned the GOP organization around. (photo credit: AP/Lenny Ignelzi)

Conservative Jewish columnist Bethany Mandel, who in recent months faced an onslaught of anti-Semitic attacks from Trump supporters for her criticism of the candidate, was less gentle in her response to Priebus’s comments.

“Fuck that,” she wrote on Twitter, adding that Preibus had “just signed the death certificate for the GOP.”

Mandel, who recently wrote that the anti-Semitic onslaught leveled against her was so strong that she had purchased a gun to defend herself, concluded what she had been suggesting for weeks — that Trump’s presumptive nomination crossed a red line for her brand of conservatism.

“I believe in conservatism. I therefore will not be voting for the @GOP nominee this year,” she wrote. “The party left me.”

Not all prominent Jewish Republicans were so quick to distance themselves from Trump. Former George W. Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer wrote Tuesday evening that “there’s a lot about Donald Trump that I don’t like, but I’ll vote for Trump over Hillary any day.”

But Phillip Klein, the managing editor of the right-wing Washington Examiner and a longtime critic of Trump’s candidacy, took his protest a step further Tuesday evening. Klein shared on social media an image of his deregistration from the GOP.

“I have officially de-registered as a Republican,” said Klein, who changed his voter registration status to “no party affiliation.”

In a February column, Klein excoriated Trump for his liberal background, his disregard for constitutional rights, his racism and sexism, and his adversarial relationship to some of America’s trading partners — among other reasons why he said that he would “never, ever” vote for the businessman.

In a column posted less than an hour after Trump’s Indiana victory was announced, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin sounded a Churchillian ultimatum.

“Responsible Republicans must conclude that there needs to be a separation between those who put stock in personal character and truthfulness and those who do not; between those who babble inanities and those who insist on intellectual rigor; between those who lack simple decency and respect for fellow Americans and those who believe our political system must function without threat of violence, bigoted slurs and lies.”

“The dividing line is now crystal clear,” continued the conservative columnist. “To one side stands an angry nativist mob and to the other men and women of decent character and honorable purpose. Choose sides. You cannot be in both camps. And if you claim to be bound by “party loyalty” to support Trump, there will be scores who will refuse to be in the same party.”

Rubin suggested that while she would not support Trump, she still held out hope for a third-party candidate who would present a viable alternative to either parties’ frontrunner.

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