It was called the first kosher cattle call of the 2024 presidential election cycle. The Republican Jewish Coalition held its annual leadership meetings in Las Vegas over the weekend, serving as both a post-mortem on the midterms and a preview of the organization’s strategy going forward. The event drew addresses by former President Donald Trump and many of his top potential primary challengers.

“I think it is historic. The attendance for this event is the largest it’s ever been. There’s a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm,” Matt Brooks, RJC CEO, told JNS. “The fact that we were able to attract the leadership of the Republican Party is a testament not only to the commitment they have to the Jewish community, but also the value that they place on the work that we do with the Republican Jewish Coalition.”

Former Senator Norm Coleman, who serves as the RJC’s national chairman, praised what he said is the party’s deep roster, giving party members viable alternatives should they choose to move on from Trump.

“There is a tremendous Republican bench. Listen to the folks that we had tonight,” Coleman told JNS following Friday night’s session with former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee. “And every one of them is capable of kind of charting a course to offer a better America. So, I think the conversation about where the Republican Party goes is just beginning.”

Coleman acknowledged trepidation among membership for supporting Trump again, considering a pattern of election cycle losses and the baggage of legal issues and frayed personal relationships Trump has within the party. He intimated that it was not easy for members to move on from what he called the most pro-Israel administration in American history.

“I think there is just a general understanding and deep appreciation that President Trump was the best friend that Israel ever had in the White House. There’s no question about that. On the other hand, I think there are questions about the future, about whether he focuses too much on January 6, too much on November 2020, and not enough on today, tomorrow and the future,” said Coleman.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who headlined Saturday evening’s event, “is articulating a vision that was successful in Florida,” said Coleman. Pence, Pompeo and others “clearly have a vision of America that is of better days to come, and perhaps a vision that can be more appealing to folks in the suburbs and other places whose votes we lost in the last couple of cycles.” Coleman said Trump, despite his accomplishments, will need to make a case to voters again as to why they should vote for him.

Both Brooks and Coleman said they were pleased by polls showing the share of the Jewish vote going to Republicans increasing. A Fox News poll showed Republicans grabbed 33% of the Jewish vote in the midterms, and the RJC claimed 45% of Floridian Jews voted for the GOP. Coleman, who said he never met a Republican until college, feels that bread and butter issues are resonating with American Jews who grew up in Democrat-voting households.

“It’s changing because Jews, like all other Americans, are worried about crime in the streets. They’re worried about inflation and the cost of a gallon of gas. They’re worried about being able to feed their families. They’re worried about their small business, and Democrats crush us with regulation, and they crush us with taxes,” said Coleman. “I think there is an opportunity there. We’re just beginning to see that realized.”

Brooks said that his organization realized recently that moving the needle on the Jewish vote involved talking about more than Israel, and that the party needed to speak with Jewish voters in the same way it does with other voters, while improving its data analytics to identify those with crossover potential.

“We realized that the Jewish community is not that monolithic. And as a result, if you want to appeal to them, there are people who care very deeply and very passionately about Israel, but they’re also people who care about crime on the streets, who care about education, who care about immigration and the economy, jobs, inflation, cost of groceries,” he said. “Our success has been to build out and spend massive amounts of money on data analytics to put together the most sophisticated Jewish voter file ever. We can identify on a granular level individual Jewish voters, find out what issue is important, find out if they’re an Israel voter or an economic voter or immigration voter, and then deliver messages to them that help bring them over.”

That includes increasing efforts to recruit more electable Jewish candidates. The House’s Jewish contingent will increase from two to three. Rep. Lee Zeldin leaves office after a strong showing in the New York gubernatorial race, helping to flip four House seats in districts with large Jewish populations and catapulting the House back into Republican hands. Zeldin said he is “very seriously considering” running for chair of the Republican National Committee following his headline-grabbing campaign.

Newly-elected Max Miller of Ohio and George Santos of New York join Rep. David Kustoff of Tennessee as a triumvirate of Jewish House members in the next session.

“We’re making our mark. We’re increasing our presence. The Orthodox community is already there. We have to reach out beyond the Orthodox community. And if we do so, I think we’ll have those opportunities to have more candidates,” said Coleman.

Brooks told the gathered press that he had no regrets about the RJC spending massively in the Pennsylvania Senate race—ultimately a losing cause—rather than potentially winnable elections elsewhere. But he did question the organization’s strategy in the Pennsylvania governor’s race, which impacted the critical Senate race between Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz.

Brooks issued a statement in the midst of the campaign denouncing Republican candidate Doug Mastriano, a Christian nationalist, for his association with a bigoted, antisemitic far-right social networking site. The RJC has been one of the few organizations across the spectrum to actively call out Jew hatred within its own party.

Brooks told JNS that had he known Mastriano would lose by some 15 points to his opponent, Jewish attorney general Josh Shapiro, it “may have affected some calculations.”

“One of the laws of political gravity is that it’s impossible to outperform the top of your ticket by 15%. One of the things about the Republican Jewish Coalition is we set a policy in stone that we have zero tolerance for antisemitism, whether it’s from the right or the left. So, it was an easy call for us in terms of Mastriano to engage as we did,” said Brooks. “I just wish at the end of the day that it didn’t have the effect of pulling Dr. Oz down and hindering his ability to win.”

JNS

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