Many of the major Jewish donors who had supported former Gov. Jeb Bush’s failed campaign for president are sitting on the sidelines at the moment, The Jewish Week has learned.
“I spent the last two days on the phone with Jeb Bush supporters — and many of his donors I have known for a long time,” Phil Rosen, a top fundraiser for Mitt Romney in 2012 and now a supporter of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, told The Jewish Week Monday night.
“Almost to a man they said they would come on board [for Rubio] now or soon — they just want to take a day or two break,” he said.
Nick Muzin, an Orthodox Jewish doctor-lawyer who is a senior adviser to the presidential campaign of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, said he too has been working the phones reaching out to Bush supporters “in the last 24 hours.”
“They are receptive to our outreach,” he said. “We are confident we’ll get a number of them.”
Fred Zeidman, a major Republican donor who had supported Bush, said he supported Bush because he believes “only a moderate can beat the Democratic candidate.”
With Bush out of the race after his fourth-place finish in the South Carolina primary last week, Zeidman told The Jewish Week he wants to “sit back, catch my breath and take a look at who is out there and who has the best chance” of winning the Republican presidential nomination.
“We have winnowed the field to great candidates and the question is who has the best chance to beat the eventual Democratic candidate for president,” he added.
Ken Bialkin, like Zeidman a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said he too is going to wait for things to shake themselves out.
“The situation now is extremely confused,” he said. “I think that right now the RJC has not seen it necessary to take a position. I have great admiration and respect for each of the candidates. I have not been contacted by any of their campaigns and it is premature from me to express an opinion. My mind is open.”
Zeidman said it is his “guess we will know in the next two weeks” who the Republican nominee will be.
The polls show New York businessman Donald Trump winning most of the upcoming primaries, and by March 15, 60 percent of the Republican delegates will have been chosen. If the polls prove correct, Trump could be well on his way to capturing the nomination next week with the Super Tuesday primaries in 10 states (595 delegates will be chosen — 24 percent of the 2,472 total needed for nomination).
“As long as a Trump nomination seems as inevitable as it does now, they [major Republican donors] are not going to give money to Rubio or Cruz because they do not want to back a loser,” said William Helmreich, a professor of sociology at the City University of New York who has also been a political pollster.
Ester Fuchs, a professor of public affairs and political science at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, noted that part of Trump’s appeal was his decision to fund his campaign himself and to refuse donations.
“Big money buys access and Trump is not interested in their money,” she said. “I’m talking about big money, like Sheldon Adelson.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Adelson, the billionaire casino owner, had yet to announce whom he would support, although the newspaper he owns, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, endorsed Rubio.
Among Rubio’s major Jewish patrons have been two other billionaires, Norman Braman and Paul Singer.
Fuchs said there are “too many people in the field” to know who is going to be the Republican presidential candidate.
“As it stands, Trump is collecting the delegates,” she observed. “But it’s not over — not over on either side.”
That view was echoed by Melissa Miller, an associate professor in political science who specializes in American politics at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
“Picking whom to donate to now is like picking a winner,” she said. “The most interesting question is might [Ohio Gov.] John [Kasich] pick up some money. There is a possible path for him, but it is a very narrow path. He put his eggs in New Hampshire and nowhere else. For all the non-Trump candidates, the path to victory becomes more and more constricted — and donors know that.”
But at least one former Bush adviser, Jay Lefkowitz, a former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush for Domestic Policy, is now supporting Rubio. He said he believes “Rubio has a greater appeal to the Bush voters than Donald Trump does. … Within the Jewish community, Rubio is a more natural fit than Trump or Cruz.”
“I would expect there will be a move to support Rubio, the real question is whether he can galvanize enough support in the next few weeks,” Lefkowitz added. “With the Florida primary in mid-March, there is not a lot of time to get the momentum rolling.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island, the only Republican Jew in Congress and who has yet to endorse a presidential candidate, said he also believes Rubio will “quite possibly” garner the support of most of Bush’s Jewish supporters.
But he too agreed that the “best thing for Trump is for there to be as many other candidates in the race as possible going after each other.”
Zeldin pointed out that “a lot of pro-Israel Republicans in New York I have spoken to seem to be most supportive of other candidates in the race.”
But Sid Dinerstein, a former chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Committee in Florida, said he has found a great deal of support for Trump in the Jewish community there.
“I live in an affluent community that is 60 percent Jewish,” he said. “All my friends are for Trump, who talks very proudly of his Jewish family [his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism] and of his feelings for Israel. … I haven’t endorsed yet, but I would be very comfortable with him as president.”
But Gilbert Kahn, a political science professor at Kean University in Union, N.J., said Trump “is seen in many circles as a lot of hot air.”
“I don’t care what he did in the corporate world, he doesn’t know how to get things done,” he said. “I think Jews have soured on Cruz because he is not winning and is becoming not likeable. He has pushed the religion button too many times.
“Rubio is more complicated. He is becoming more and more the likely choice of what was once called the establishment Republicans — he is more palatable than the extreme characters like Trump and Cruz. But if Kasich gets a real bump out of Super Tuesday – beyond Ohio – I would have to revisit that.”
Kyle Kondik at the University of Virginia Center for Politics said Kasich “does not have much national standing but has significant support of the Jewish business community in Columbus and more broadly across Ohio. I’m talking about [Jewish] donors like Les Wexner, not voters.”
Despite Republican attempts in recent election cycles to woo Jewish voters, Robert Watson, a professor and coordinator of American Studies at Lynn University in Florida, said he believes Jewish support for the Democratic Party will remain strong in November even though it has slipped in recent years. Barack Obama received about 74 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, a percentage that dropped to 69 percent in 2012.
He said Rubio was not “one of the major outspoken champions of Israel … and not well informed on Israel” when he was a Florida state representative.
“He has been an outspoken advocate for Israel in the last few years in the Senate, so the question is whether he is really an outspoken supporter or a Marco-come-lately,” Watson said.
He said Cruz’s “thinly veiled comments at Trump’s New York values smack of old anti-Semitism scare mongering.” And although Trump has been saying “the right things about his support for Israel, he has no voting record. I’m not sure I’m prepared to say that someone who was a grand marshal of the Israel Parade is the person I would support.”
Hillary Clinton, however, had a solid voting record on Israel when she served as New York’s junior senator, Watson said, “and Obama delivered everything Israel asked for [despite] … strained relations with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”
The strongest support for the Republican Party has come in recent years from the Orthodox Jewish community. Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology and Jewish studies at CUNY, said exit polls show Trump’s strength to be among non-college graduates, a profile that fits the ultra-Orthodox.
“I don’t think they were ever going to vote for Bush but they are likely to vote for Trump because of his populist message and that he tells it like it is,” he said.
Helmreich said he has found broad support for Trump here among “a number of middle-class and Harvard-educated doctors, dentists and lawyers. They plan to vote for Trump but begged me not to reveal it because they feel embarrassed to be associated with someone with all of these slogans. … It’s overstated to think he is getting the support of only white working-class people.”