Thirty three percent of American Jews who participated in the midterm elections voted Republican, according to a Fox News exit poll. While some dispute the findings, it is quite a startling number if you consider the tone of the recent election – with charges of antisemitism, fascism, and threats to democracy swirling over Republican candidates. This was the backdrop as nearly 1,000 Jewish Republicans gathered for the recent Republican Jewish Coalition summit held in Las Vegas, Nov. 17-20, only 10 days removed from the midterms. As an attendee, I came away with some observations that give me hope for our sad state of political discourse.
Yes, Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, addressed the gathering via satellite from Mar-a-Lago. And yes, as reported in the media, he received a standing ovation. But there was more to this than meets the eye. It was a courteous and polite ovation, not emotional, in keeping with his remarkable record on Israel, and less, much less, having to do with his disproven and discredited 2020 stolen election claims.
I met and spoke with dozens of my fellow Jews from around the country. There was palpable despair that Republicans will lose if we don’t find a new path.
In contrast, attendees were highly encouraged that conservative governance did well in the midterms – all Republican governors were reelected, and the GOP has retaken the US House of Representatives. Just look at Ron DeSantis’ historic win in Florida, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s reelection by a commanding 53-46 margin, Gov. Mike DeWine reelected in Ohio, Gov. Chris Sununu’s landslide win in New Hampshire, and many other victories. And most notable was how Jewish Congressman Lee Zeldin upended the deep blue state of New York, narrowly losing the governorship but doing better than any Republican since Nelson Rockefeller 52 years ago.
There were a multitude of impressive speakers and possible presidential candidates, many who openly and forcefully implored us to move on from Trump and set a winning course against the Biden record. This included former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Former Vice President Mike Pence, Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. The loudest applause and energy were saved for DeSantis, who got everyone on their feet in a rousing and extended standing ovation. It is reported that he received 45% of the Jewish vote in Florida and carried Miami-Dade County.
Three Republican Jewish Congressional victors spoke – Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN), Rep-Elect Max Miller (R-OH), a former Marine, and Rep.-Elect George Santos (R-NY). Santos spoke of his family’s story of survival – his family fled Ukraine for Belgium, then fled the Nazis to Brazil. All spoke of the greatness of America. All had a strong message of values, family and freedom. Their focus is on challenges our country faces such as inflation, energy security, crime and a dysfunctional border.
A few days before the conference, a disturbing attempt was made to label the RJC and its attendees as antisemitic. This outrageous and vile charge began when the leftist group, IfNotNow.org, a group claiming to be “American Jews organizing our community to end U.S. support for Israel’s apartheid system…” tweeted, “The Republican Jewish Coalition’s Pro-Antisemitism Conference is happening in 2 days!” This coming from a group that accuses Israel of crimes against humanity and mourns the deaths of Hamas terrorists.
About the same time MSNBC ran a piece charging that Jewish Republicans were “trafficking in subtle and unsubtle forms of antisemitism,” mainly citing Republican criticism of George Soros. The MSNBC writer was also troubled that non-Jewish candidates are, in their words, using tropes like dual loyalty to appeal to Jews, who strongly support Israel. But as Bibi Netanyahu stated in his remarks to the Las Vegas crowd, most Americans view Israel as sharing common values and protecting our civilization from those who seek to destroy us. Israel and the U.S. are like family. We are in this together.
The Las Vegas Republicans realized that the party has much soul searching and healing ahead of it. However, it is not Republican ideas that the American people reject. Trump mostly governed as a conservative, but also a populist, which opened doors for extremist views to flourish. Undeniably, he brought us energy security, reigned in the border, and lifted incomes across all segments of society. His record would have been enough. We didn’t need the tweets and bitter reprisals with everyone.
The Republican Jewish Coalition conference was a continuation of what I see as “coming to grips.” In his remarks, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called it “a time for choosing.” He invoked a historical note. In 1962, as the Republican Party was becoming enthralled with the John Birch Society, Ronald Reagan steadfastly would not accept their philosophy. However, Barry Goldwater did and suffered a landslide defeat in 1964. Reagan began the long journey of persuading Americans of his American exceptional values and went on the become president and forged a coalition that inspired millions of Americans.
While an imperfect analogy, I believe the Republicans are ready for a similar course correction, though it will be halting and uneven. I hope the Democrats are ready for some soul searching and a course correction of their own. Think Linda Sarsour, Ilhan Omar, Louis Farrakhan. There should be zero tolerance for antisemitism, whether it’s from the right or the left. President Biden, when asked what he would do different after the midterms, replied: “Nothing.”
The clear-eyed vision and optimism I saw in Las Vegas leads me to feel encouraged that the Republicans are in a good place, but the work is not finished.
This commentary, and other commentaries in the Chronicle, do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Chronicle. We seek a diversity of opinions.
Andy Palec works in commercial real estate and writes about politics and foreign affairs. He is a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition Leadership Council and lives in Wauwatosa.