By Jonah L. Rosenblum/Cleveland Jewish News/JNS.org
Israel stood on the sideline for most of the Aug. 6 primetime Republican Presidential Primary Debate, hosted by Fox News at Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. But that changed an hour and 43 minutes in, when U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky) was asked about his previous proposal to cut all financial aid to the Jewish state.
Paul didn’t back off that stance. Instead, he said the U.S. shouldn’t give foreign aid until it had a surplus to take from. He noted that even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel will be stronger when it is independent.
“Out of your surplus, you can help your allies, and Israel is a great ally,” Paul said. “We cannot give away money we don’t have. We do not project power from bankruptcy court.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stood in semi-disagreement.
“I absolutely believe that Israel is a priority to be able to fund and keep them strong and safe after eight years of this presidency [of Barack Obama],” Christie said.
Matt Borges, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said that Israel is hardly the only issue that matters to Jewish voters, but it is one that brings a partisan divide to light.
“There couldn’t be any starker contrast about where we stand and where the Democrats stand on this thing right now,” Borges told the Cleveland Jewish News.
The American Jewish vote has gone to the Democratic Party in every election since 1920, although the Republican Party came relatively close in 1980 (within 6 percentage points). After reaching a low at 11 percent in 1992, Republicans have slowly increased their chunk of the Jewish vote in recent elections, losing 69-30 percent in 2012. President Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008.
While most (though not all) polls show that both Americans voters generally as well as American Jews are against the recently forged Iran deal, the leading Republican presidential candidates came out against the agreement in unison during the Aug. 6 debate.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said he’d terminate the deal on day one if he were elected.
“It’s another example of the failed foreign policy of the Clinton-Obama doctrine,” Walker said.
Paul faulted how the Obama administration negotiated.
“I don’t think the president negotiated from a position of strength,” he said. “I think President Obama gave away too much too early.”
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee brought up the Ronald Reagan aphorism, “Trust, but verify,” accusing Obama of a “Trust, but vilify” approach that criticizes all who oppose the pact.
“We got nothing, and Iran gets everything they want,” Huckabee said. “The world has a burgeoning nuclear power.”
Current frontrunner (according to recent polls) and real estate mogul Donald Trump agreed.
“If Iran was a stock, you folks should go out and buy it right now,” Trump said. “What’s happening in Iran is a disgrace, and it’s going to lead to destruction in large portions of the world.”
An overly soft Obama administration policy was also discussed in regard to the Islamic State terror group.
“We will not defeat radical Islamic terrorism so long as we have a president unwilling to utter the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) said. “What we need is a commander-in-chief that makes clear if you join ISIS (Islamic State), if you wage jihad on America, then you are signing your death warrant.”
In his argument for a stronger foreign policy, Cruz recalled that the Americans taken hostage by Iran from 1979-81 were released right after Reagan took office.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush said he wouldn’t have gone to war in Iraq knowing what he knows today, but he blamed Obama’s abandonment of Iraq for creating a void that allowed Islamic State to grow.
“We need to take out ISIS with every tool at our disposal,” Bush said.
Borges told the Cleveland Jewish News that Ohio Governor John Kasich stood out for his foreign policy experience, including nearly two decades on the U.S. Armed Services Committee, which Kasich stressed during the debate.
“It stands out from others, because he’s the only one who can talk about it,” Borges said. “The only thing he has to do to differentiate himself from the other candidates is talk about his record, because his record differentiates himself.”
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