The top 10 Republican candidates debating Thursday evening are scheduled to go at it on national television, radio and the internet for two hours, according to Fox News officials hosting the presidential sound off.
It behooves the Jewish community to pay attention to how the Republicans, Donald Trump and all the others approach key issues, such as the Iran deal and Israeli security, which are expected to be among a number of key questions asked of all those on the stage.
Almost to a person, the Republican candidates are Israel supporters, with Trump touting himself as the strongest of them all.
“The only [candidate] that’s going to give real support to Israel is me. I’ve been loyal to Israel from the day I was born. My father, Fred Trump, was loyal to Israel before me. The only one that’s going to give Israel the kind of support it needs is Donald Trump,” he said recently during a campaign stop.
Trump’s attitude toward Israel might be influenced by the marriage of his daughter, Ivanka, to real estate developer and New York Observer publisher Jared Kushner, and her conversion to Judaism.
“I have great respect for [the Shabbat traditions], and I see Ivanka during Saturday, and from Friday evening on through Saturday night, she won’t take phone calls and they live a very interesting life,” said Trump. “And it’s actually a beautiful thing to watch, with Jared and Ivanka. In a very hectic life, it really becomes a very peaceful time. So there’s something very nice about it.”
Trump is not alone in his hardline approach to Israel among “tough on defense” Republicans.
In announcing his candidacy in June, Jeb Bush said, “I will rebuild our vital friendships.”
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said one of the reasons he visited Israel in the spring was because, “I wanted to be perfectly clear that if I were the president, America would re-establish itself as a strong ally of Israel. I think there is a real concern in that country and it was affirmed on my visit that America is somehow backing away, at least in part, from that relationship. That starts by standing with the brave, democratic State of Israel.”
And Florida Senator Marco Rubio argued in March, “If America doesn’t stand with Israel, who would we stand with? If Israel, a democracy, a strong American ally on the international stage, if they are not worthy of our unconditional support, then what ally of ours around the world can feel safe in their alliance with us?”
Candidates seeking support from the evangelical community, such as Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, are also adamant in their commitment to Israel. Said Cruz in his March entry into the GOP primary competition, “Instead of a president who boycotts Prime Minister Netanyahu, imagine a president who stands unapologetically with Israel.”
In addition, Huckabee’s recent comments claiming that President Obama’s deal with Iran to stop them from developing an atomic weapon places the Israelis at the door to the oven has moved Huckabee into the limelight of the perceived American/Israeli impasse.
Trump carried a double-digit leadership position among Republicans into the debate.
Up to the minute polling was aggregated by Fox News, host of the debate, to determine which ten candidates would be invited to the primetime forum at 9 p.m. and which would be relegated to the lower profile alternative that aired four hours earlier. The network announced the lineups about 48 hours before the first of the two programs began.
Trump’s ravaging of the Republican presidential landscape, largely unpredicted, has caused most of his Republican opponents to distance themselves from him. But his unpredictable, shoot from the hip approach, insulting other candidates, denouncing Mexicans who come here illegally as rapists and degrading Senator John McCain’s Vietnam era heroism by declaring, “heroes don’t get shot down,” seems only to have increased his popularity.
Trump’s general approach to foreign policy has been that he will increase respect for the U.S. around the world by being more assertive, and his positions on Middle East issues are consistent with that. For example, he spoke forcefully in reaction to the multinational deal with Iran.
“I don’t understand the president. He dealt from desperation, and he shouldn’t have been desperate,” Trump said. “We have to be able to inspect immediately… Any time, anywhere, we have to be able to go in and inspect. If you don’t have that, you have nothing, because you know the Iranians are going to cheat.”