President Trump and Vice President Pence will be speaking Saturday at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas. While both men have spoken at RJC events before, bringing in the sitting president and vice president for the same weekend event is a major coup for any political group and shows the growing power of the RJC, which pushes for conservative and pro-Israel policies and works to elect more Republican candidates to office. (Full disclosure: I interned for the RJC for a college semester).
Many RJC board members were reportedly wary of Trump before he was elected – indeed, it was at an RJC candidate forum in December 2015 where Trump told his Jewish audience that he was “a negotiator like you,” which some thought echoed anti-Semitic tropes. Only 9 of its 55 board members donated to him in 2016.
But since his inauguration, Trump has made a series of pro-Israel moves, including withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the United States embassy there, that have endeared him to many Jews who are supportive of current Israeli policies. After Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights last month, RJC president Matt Brooks said in a statement that Trump was “the most pro-Israel President ever.”
The RJC was founded in 1985 and quickly developed close ties to Republicans in Congress and around the country. George W. Bush spoke at the organization’s 20th anniversary gala in 2005, where he mentioned that when he was the governor of Texas, he and other state leaders were brought to Israel on an RJC junket.
In 2016, the latest year tax records are available, the RJC had revenue of $4.6 million; that year, its affiliated political action committee spent more than $282,000 on campaign activities. In 2018, the PAC more than doubled its spending to $671,000. Much of that spending was on campaign ads in key battleground House districts, where they attacked Democrats for being anti-Israel; RJC-backed candidates won those tight races in Pennsylvania and Virginia, even in a tough environment for Republicans nationwide.
The RJC is financially powered by some of the Republican Party’s biggest donors, including Sheldon Adelson, who will be hosting the RJC’s meeting at his casino, the Venetian; Bernard Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot; and Elliott Broidy, who resigned from his post as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee after it was revealed that Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, had arranged a $1.6 million payment from Broidy to a Playboy Playmate to ensure her silence about their alleged affair.
Still, despite the RJC’s efforts, Democrats have continued to receive the strong majority of Jewish votes. Since the end of the Cold War, Republicans have never received more than 30% of the Jewish vote in presidential elections, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. And in the 2018 midterms, the Jewish Republican share fell to 19%, according to an exit poll commissioned by the left-wing Israel group J Street.