More than Jewish votes, GOP presidential candidates need Jewish donors

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), one of the Republican candidates in the 2016 presidential election. Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ronn Torossian/

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby has written that “liberalism has superseded Judaism as the religion of most American Jews.” While President Barack Obama has consistently been hostile towards Israel, one wonders if this election cycle may finally see Jews swing to the Republican Party. Jacoby rightfully previously noted, “This liberalism isn’t rational. It isn’t sensible. It certainly isn’t good for the Jews.”

While the Jewish community overwhelmingly votes Democrat, what Republicans need more than Jewish votes is the support of Jewish donors. The New York Times recently noted in a front-page feature story, “G.O.P.’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift,” that there is little question that a small group of super-wealthy pro-Israel Jewish donors have an oversized impact on this election cycle. As every clock is right twice a day—at least on this issue—the liberal New York Times is right.

Numerous studies have noted that Jewish-Americans donate more than people of other faiths, and while Israel affects the votes of very few people in states which matter, the Jewish community has an outsized impact when it comes to donating funds.

While the New York Observer accurately reported I was among of handful of attendees at an early private gathering with Senator Ted Cruz, I can attest firsthand, knowing many of the Jewish GOP mega-donors, that supporting a candidate for president is about more than just Israel. My friends, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, are passionate Americans who care about many issues. Paul Singer is an outspoken advocate for gay rights, and the greatDr. Irving and Cherna Moskowitz are philanthropists who are active on many issues. (Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton has received a $300,000 check from Mrs. Moskowitz, according to Politico.)

These donors—and others—seek candidates that can beat Hillary Clinton in a general election. That is no small task. Money matters, and while Jews are influential, New Yorkers by far give the most funds to candidates in the presidential race. 

CNN reports that Jeb Bush and Governor Scott Walker will both be in New York this week, and most candidates gather the vast majority of their resources at the outset of the campaign. The trajectory of campaigns are often then determined by how much funds they deplete, and how much they can hold on to sustain them to the primaries. As one who lives and works in Manhattan, as much as I can’t stand candidates coming to town due to the traffic it creates, the reality is that those who maintain strong relationships in New York will gather more support as campaigns gain strength—and Israel will be key. 

Since 1964, the Republican nominee has been a candidate whose ideological wingspan encompasses the entire range of the Republican Party. No candidate has been successful by confining themselves to either wing of the party without securing the comfort of most of the party. Undoubtedly, that is also key to the Jewish mega-donors who are quite far from the uber-right of the GOP.  While there are a number of 2016 candidates who will compete for particular segments of party support and are strong on Israel and other Jewish issues, the GOP—and Jewish mega-donors—must choose a candidate who can compete for the entire spectrum and give Republicans the best chance to defeat Hillary Clinton in the general election.

One interesting option would be the last Republican governor to win the Jewish vote—New York’s George Pataki. In 2004, Pataki, a moderate Republican governor, won re-election with a majority of Jewish votes. The New York Times revealed that he also received almost 50 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2002. New York’s Hispanics aren’t your usual Hispanics. They are mostly liberal Puerto Rican Americans, and not more conservative Cuban Americans or Mexican Americans. The New York Times noted that “the Republicans succeeded in driving a wedge in the black-Latino coalition that has come together in the past to support Democratic candidates."  That’s another key to winning this 2016 election.

Undoubtedly, the chosen GOP candidate must be one who can win the entire country—and not just the uber-right. Americans of all races and religions—including those of us who are Israel supporters—need and deserve better than we have had since Obama took office.

Author Norman Podhoretz wrote in “Why Are Jews Liberal” that, “To most American Jews, then, liberalism is not, as has often been said, merely a necessary component of Jewishness: it is the very essence of being a Jew. Nor is it a ‘substitute for religion’: it is a religion in its own right, complete with its own catechism and its own dogmas and, Tertullian-­like, obdurately resistant to facts that undermine its claims and promises.” 

We need a great American president in 2016.

Ronn Torossian 

Earlier this month, a piece in The Jerusalem Post recalled, “In the summer of 1994, no one believed that soon to be Governor George Pataki would win election. The candidate himself seemed resigned to defeat and likely viewed the gubernatorial nomination as a stepping stone to other things beyond the actual race. He visited the Ohel (Chabad-Lubavitch leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s grave) and stated that for the first time, he felt like he was going to win. His upset was the biggest shock of the 1994 election and he went on to be New York’s governor for 12 years.” 

While I am not sure every candidate would visit the grave of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I have no doubt they will keep coming to New York to seek the support of Jewish—and non-Jewish—donors.

Ronn Torossian is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who will vote in 2016 for anyone but Hillary.

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Posted on April 20, 2015 .