GOP Jews Want To Hear More From Trump
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GOP Jews Want To Hear More From Trump

Cautious support but concern about whether presumptive nominee ‘represents their values.’

As the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, takes shape after his two remaining competitors have dropped out, outreach has begun to potential donors. They want to hear more, especially about Israel.

“Our alternative to Donald Trump at this point is a Democrat in the White House, and I don’t think any of us are supportive of that,” said Fred Zeidman of Houston, a major Republican donor who had previously backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

He said he thought it would “be fine,” that he still needed to have a “conversation with Mr. Trump to get a more definitive view of his position on issues important to us. And to me, the most important issue is the safety and security of Israel. His last statements have been very positive — I just need him to reinforce them and make sure he understands our issues and that he is as supportive as he needs to be.”

Daniel Retter, a New York lawyer who has provided the Trump campaign with ideas on how to handle the estimated 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants living illegally in the U.S., said he recently provided the campaign with the names of potential donors.

“There are some very heavy-duty people who gave money to the Rubio campaign, and I’m trying to convince the Trump campaign to reach out to them,” he said. “They are Jewish people with serious bucks who in the past have supported Rubio and [former Florida Gov. Jeb] Bush. They are now just waiting to see if Trump represents their values.”

Ben Chouake, president of NORPAC, a non-partisan pro-Israel Political Action Committee, said one of his “colleagues got a call from Jared Kushner [Trump’s son-in-law] to see if he was interested” in contributing.

He said he believes Trump is going to need about $4 billion — half of which would come from Super PACs that have no ties to the campaign — for the general election.

Chouake noted that NORPAC has already held a major fundraiser for Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton and smaller ones for former Republican contenders, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

“NORPAC bundles hard dollars for presidential campaigns,” he said, adding that should one of its members wish to hold a fundraiser for Trump he would not object. Until now, Trump has reportedly spent $40 million of his own money to finance his primary campaign.

“He is going to be the Republican candidate for president and some of his views people will like and some not,” he said. “Our issue is Israel, and on Israel issues he is fine.”

Both Chouake and Zeidman said they have not yet been contacted by the Trump campaign to make a contribution.

Neither Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s newly selected finance chairman, nor RNC Finance Chairman Lew Eisenberg, could be reached for comment.

Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas-based casino owner and prime donor to Republican causes, announced here last week that he will support Trump as the party’s presidential nominee. Adelson spoke at The World Values Network gala, headed by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, where he and his wife were co-hosts.

Jay Lefkowitz, who served as President George W. Bush’s special envoy for human rights in North Korea, said he “would expect that unless Donald Trump says or does something that is seen as particularly egregious vis-a-vis Israeli interests, a solid group of Jewish Republicans will vote Republican — even if Donald Trump is at the head of the ticket.

“I guess some people will sit on their hands [on Election Day], but my guess is that Trump will reach out and try to galvanize the party more broadly.” Lefkowitz noted that “sitting on one’s hands is a protest and not an affirmative activity in a democracy.”

In an interview with the Daily Mail last week, Trump said he favored maintaining and expanding Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, a view praised by the Zionist Organization of America.

Asked by the British paper if he believed Israel should cease construction of houses in the settlements, Trump replied that Israel has to “keep moving forward. No, I don’t think there should be a pause … Look, missiles were launched into Israel, and Israel, I think, never was properly treated by our country. I mean, do you know what that is, how devastating that is? … Who would put up with that? Who would stand for it?”

The only Jewish Republican in the House, Lee Zeldin, whose First Congressional District encompasses the most easterly portions of Long Island, said he is supporting Trump and would campaign with him.

“If he comes to the First for a campaign event to raise awareness for a positive message to move our country forward, I would want to be part of that,” he said.

“If the election was held today, he would blow out Hillary Clinton” in the First CD, Zeldin added.

The district has about 30,000 more registered Republicans and Conservatives combined than Democrats, Zeldin noted. In fact, in 1978 it elected to the House William Carney, a Conservative Party candidate who won the Republican primary and general election and then caucused with the Republicans. He was re-elected four times and decided not to run for re-election in 1986.

Asked if he was supporting Trump because he had promised to support the Republican nominee, Zeldin said: “He is by far a much better candidate for president than Hillary Clinton. I would have endorsed someone earlier if I did not believe there was a lot of talent all across the [Republican debate] stage.”

But Zeldin cautioned that Trump “can’t rest on the lead in the First alone if he is going to win the White House. There are 434 districts in the country.”

He said he is looking to Trump to speak about “Israel, our greatest ally in the Middle East.”

Zeldin criticized President Obama for “treating Israel like Iran, and Iran like Israel,” he said. “We have to get back to treating enemies as enemies — they only understand strength and a more consistent foreign policy. We have to tackle the growing BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement [against Israel] on college campuses, in the workplace and in the world. He needs to talk about these issues and state a philosophy and offer solutions.”

Nick Muzin, an observant Jew who served as Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign adviser and is also his deputy chief of staff, said he has not yet decided whether to support Trump.

“I am a Republican and want to vote for the Republican nominee, but Mr. Trump still has to prove himself,” he said. “Trump knows a lot of Jewish people, his daughter is Jewish, but he does not have a real depth of knowledge yet about the Middle East. Hopefully he would be good and will have good people around him. But I’m going to wait. … I would want to meet with him, if and when Sen. Cruz is ready to meet with him.”

The latest Siena Research Poll of Jewish voters in New York released last week found that more than three-quarters — 77 percent — view Trump unfavorably. Only 19 percent have a favorable opinion of him. Clinton, on the other hand, has a favorability rating of 57 percent with Jewish voters (up from 37 percent in February) and an unfavorable rating of 42 percent, down from 53 percent in February.

In a head-to-head contest, Jews preferred Clinton over Trump by 62 percent to 23 percent. Among all voters in New York State, Clinton leads Trump 56 to 30 percent.

David Flaum, national chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition, issued a statement last week congratulating Trump “on being the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party.”

He made no further comment about Trump, but rather lashed into Clinton, saying she would be “the worst possible choice for a commander in chief.”

Kenneth Bialkin, a member of the RJC board, said he is taking a wait-and-see attitude before endorsing a presidential candidate, noting that “there is no need to make a commitment at this time.”

stewart@jewishweek.org

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