The Federalist sent an emissary to Thursday’s Republican Jewish Coalition event, which featured all the GOP candidates for president save one.
If you’re a political junkie, watching the Republican presidential debates is your idea of fun. Perhaps you even wish the format allowed for longer responses, especially from your favorite candidate(s).
If you also happen to be a Jewish Republican, there was no place better than Washington DC yesterday, when the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) hosted their 2016 Presidential Candidates Forum. Every Republican presidential candidate had 30 minutes to make his or her case. They all spoke, save Rand Paul, who was unexpectedly stuck in the Senate voting.
While yours truly is a long-time RJC member (and undecided voter), I attended the event for The Federalist. So, I watched remarks from the overflow room, with a crowd of reporters and an endless supply of doughnuts and coffee.
Digesting 13 full-length speeches is a marathon. There were some hilarious moments and some cringe-worthy ones. All in all, here’s my take on the day’s highlights:
Ted Cruz was up first. Cruz said many of the right things, but it felt like a check-list. He mentioned the Iran deal and his work with Elie Wiesel, Naftali Fraenkel, and defunding universities that don’t fight boycott, divest, and sanction demands, among other issues.
Cruz warned “We are facing a moment like Munich in 1938,” just before observing that this election season is “eerily similar” to the late 1970s, with Russia and Iran mocking President Carter, and now President Obama. He insisted that only a full-spectrum conservative could win next fall, and that we must motivate the Republican base—especially evangelicals—to vote. I suspect Cruz impressed those who already liked him but didn’t win any new converts.
Lindsey Graham went next and received a predictably warm welcome. Regardless of what he planned say, Graham’s remarks became a rebuttal of Cruz’s. Graham believes the GOP’s real electoral challenge is appealing to Hispanic voters and women by eliminating hard-edged rhetoric on immigration and abortion, respectively.
Graham correctly observed that he didn’t need to spend much time talking about Israel, because he’s already known for his support. Graham commented that Israel supporters on both sides of the aisle invested in his last Senate campaign “with a ferocity that made me feel like family. We are family. If elected, I may have the first all Jewish Cabinet.” That earned some chuckles. Graham’s odds of winning the nomination look long, but his shorter term goal of marginalizing Paul’s foreign policy views within the party—with help from world events—looks successful.
When Marco Rubio talks foreign policy, my heart typically goes pitter patter, and yesterday was no exception. Rubio talked about how devastating it is that American foreign policy lacks clarity, the need to speak up for what’s right, for our allies to trust us, and for our adversaries to respect us.
As someone who previously worked in the State Department, I was most impressed by Rubio’s answer to a question about foreign policy implementation. He conveyed a clear understanding of bureaucracies and how things work (or don’t) that too many presidential candidates don’t necessarily grasp. Understanding reality, including how to implement necessary changes, is crucial. Rubio is knowledgeable and passionate when discussing foreign policy, but whether Republicans want to elect a first-term senator—whether Rubio or Cruz—after the Obama experiment remains an open question.