WASHINGTON – Jewish Republicans have been trying to avoid this moment ever since the tumultuous primary campaign kicked off. But after Indiana voters dealt a deathblow Tuesday night to Ted Cruz, the question is inescapable for Jewish backers of the GOP: Can they rally behind Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee?
The answer for many — just as is the case with other members of the Republican establishment, it seems — is yes. Many are already falling in line.
“There’s a lot about Donald Trump that I don’t like, but I’ll vote for Trump over Hillary any day,” tweeted Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary for George W. Bush and Republican Jewish Coalition board member.
It has been a long road for Jewish Republicans, a reliable constituency of the “#NeverTrump” movement. But after trying all options, switching candidates as the primary race moved forward, and visibly distancing themselves from Trump, Jewish donors are ready to concede.
Backing the New York billionaire is made easier for them when presented as the only way to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning the November elections.
“The party needs to be focused on the real goal, which is to defeat the Democratic candidate for president of the United States,” said Fred Zeidman, a major Jewish Republican donor on Tuesday.
Zeidman, like many other Jewish GOP supporters, started off by backing a centrist candidate; in his case, Jeb Bush. After the Bush campaign collapsed Zeidman threw his support behind Ted Cruz. Now, reluctantly, he is forced to choose between backing Donald Trump or crossing party lines to back Clinton.
“There are so many issues facing us as a country and supporting a Democratic candidate would have a tremendous negative impact on the United States,” Zeidman said.
Trump hasn’t made life easy for Jewish Republicans—from his first speech at the RJC, which was laced with Jewish stereotypes, to his March performance at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s conference which led AIPAC leaders to publicly apologize for his remarks. Trump even managed to irk Jewish voters in his victory speech Tuesday night when promising that when he becomes president “we’re going to be saying Merry Christmas again.”
And that’s even before mentioning some of his hallmark policies on immigration and trade that run counter to the core beliefs of mainstream Jewish Republicans.
Trump went through his primary race without having the backing of any major Jewish activist or donor. His rivals, in contrast, did their best to try and win the Jewish vote, whether by going on pilgrimage to Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas hotel or by rolling matzo dough in Brooklyn. But Trump showed little interest in the Jewish vote or in the financial backing wealthy Jewish donors potentially offered.
Several Jewish donors, including Paul Singer and Norman Braman from Florida made an early bet on Marco Rubio. Others, like Zeidman and Mel Sembler went for Bush. Some, including Orthodox businessman Rich Roberts, started off with Scott Walker. As the field of candidates thinned, Jewish activists shifted allegiances, but made sure to remain on the anti-Trump side of the race.
“There has never been a candidate who is so highly unfavorable,” said Ben Chouake, president of the New Jersey based pro-Israel PAC NORPAC. Chouake, who personally endorsed Cruz, expressed concern over Trump’s nomination costing the Republicans seats in Congress. Will he be willing to vote for Trump in November?
“I’m a U.S.-Israel relations person, not a party person,” he said, and Trump, Chouake believes, “will be okay” on this issue.
Still, Trump will be a reluctant choice for many Jewish Republican donors and voters. And while some are beginning to adjust to the new reality that Tuesday night’s primary results brought, others are not yet willing to acknowledge that the fight is over.
Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, has been a leader of the #NeverTrump campaign and has been making the case that for Republicans like himself, Trump is just as bad as Clinton. After Trump’s Indiana victory, Kristol reacted on Twitter to the call from RNC chairman Reince Priebus to unite behind Trump against the Democratic candidate. “Half-right: #NeverClinton. Other half: #NeverTrump,” he tweeted.
Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin summed up her response to the RNC’s call for unity behind Trump in two words: “Never. Nope.”
Contact Nathan Guttman at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nathanguttman
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman