By Douglas Bloomfield
The 2024 Republican presidential campaign was launched from the roof of the King David Hotel overlooking the ancient walls of “this very city of God, Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish homeland.” The candidate was Mike Pompeo, the most overtly religious secretary of state in recent times and the most partisan, and he was using the Old City as a backdrop for a political address to evangelical Christians and the Republican National Convention, whose support he seeks for his presidential ambitions.
Other 2024 Wannabes
He wasn’t the only 2024 wannabe playing the Israel card, just the most blatant. Speakers brought up Israel on all four nights of the convention.
The list of 2024 potential candidates keeps growing and includes some retreads— Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich —and a next generation like Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, Rep. Liz Cheney, Florida’s Sen. Rick Scott and Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan. More we haven’t even heard of yet are sure to jump in (four years ago, Pete Buttigieg was a total unknown). Trump has lately begun touting his favorite daughter as a possible candidate.
The frontrunner by virtue of his present job is Vice President Mike Pence, whose evangelical creds outshine Pompeo’s. He is the one most responsible for winning that influential religious bloc’s votes for Donald Trump in 2016, a feat he hopes to repeat this November.
There is no one more obsequious in American politics today than Pence, who worships the ground Trump walks on and lets us know that with his every fawning breath. Because of that, he may have trouble defining himself as his own man and not just Trump’s obnoxiously loyal boot licker. It’s hard to imagine him getting Trump’s endorsement, if it is even worth anything by then.
The main competition for the two midwestern evangelicals (Pence and Pompeo) is a Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, the daughter of Indian Sikh immigrants. She was rumored as a possible replacement for Pence if Trump decided he needed a woman on the ticket.
She has the rare distinction of voluntarily leaving the Trump administration without turning on the president, being trashed by him or enmeshed in scandal. She used her time on stage at last week’s convention to burnish her 2024 credentials as a staunch defender of Israel during her tenure at the UN. She highlighted her role in Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Trump himself was seemingly confused by the embassy move. Speaking at a rally in Wisconsin in August, he declared “we moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem.” Actually, the Israeli government did that more than 70 years ago. What Trump did do was officially recognize the city as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and order the embassy transferred there from Tel Aviv.
He said the move was made “for the evangelicals,” and then complained they “are more excited by that than the Jewish people.”
He’s right. The embassy move, recognition of Jerusalem as the capital and annexation of the Golan Heights, and green lighting Israeli annexation of big chunks of the West Bank has nothing to do with the Jewish vote. Not that Jews don’t care, they do, but Israel has not been a high priority for Jewish voters in many years.
An overwhelming majority of Jews know that despite fundamental differences on most issues, both parties are basically supportive of Israel, albeit from different perspectives. The Republican approach is more faith based because of the predominant influence of the Christian evangelicals. The Democrats’ perspective is focused more on values issues likes democracy, human rights and peace.
For all his talk about the peace deal of the century and taking credit for the UAE-Israel agreement, Trump isn’t really serious about peacemaking. The UAE deal, from the Trump perspective, was more about opening markets for billions in American arms sales and trade. That is evident in his peace plan that was drafted in cooperation with the right-wing Netanyahu government and excluded the Palestinians.
As Israel’s governments under Benjamin Netanyahu have moved farther to the right and come under influence of ultra-religious and ultra-nationalist forces, the rift between American Jewry and the Jewish state has widened.
Jews will continue voting Democratic because the rest of the GOP agenda is more appalling than appealing. But that doesn’t really matter because it’s not Jewish votes, but Jewish money Republicans seek, and it works very well. Both parties have their stables of wealthy Jewish donors and topping the list for Republicans is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, the largest single contributor to Trump and to the GOP and a prime financial benefactor for Netanyahu as well.
Israel is one of the few countries where Trump’s America is viewed positively by a majority of the population, according to a Pew Research poll. Others in the group are the Philippines, Poland, South Korea, Ukraine and Lithuania.
Pompeo was in Israel to help finalize the UAE agreement and visit other Gulf states. He would have us believe that his GOP convention speech was filmed on his own time and money, but that just ain’t so. He was in Jerusalem on the taxpayers’ dime, not his own; it was a violation of ethical guidelines that he personally issued that specifically barred “Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention or convention-related event.”
The House Foreign Affairs Committee looking into holding him in contempt for “alarming disregard for the law” for using his Jerusalem trip “for his personal and political benefit,” said Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY).
The man who Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl called “the worst secretary of state in history,” had his department’s inspector general fired for investigating a variety of possible ethics violations, from hosting taxpayer-funded dinners at the State Department to using Department officials to perform household tasks for himself and his wife, including walking their dog and washing dishes.
Jockeying For Position
Using Jerusalem as a prop in his partisan speech while on an official trip was a blatant violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits political activity for civil servants, but that law is a joke in the Trump administration, like so many other laws —particularly laws dealing with government ethics.
The 2020 election is still two months away, but the jockeying has already begun for the next one, and the ghostwriters are busy writing books for all the wannabes to share their visions for curing all that ails America. As always, Israel will be a big part of their fund-raising appeals, but essentially meaningless when it’s time to count votes in four more years.