The Republican road to the White House runs through Israel

March 26, 2015
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) leaves the U.S. Senate Chamber after a marathon attack on Obamacare at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) leaving the Senate Chamber after a marathon attack on Obamacare, at the Capitol in Washington, September 25, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

As Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) announced on Monday that he is running for president, his Virginia audience cheered. He dropped applause line after applause line on some 10,000 students at Liberty University, which bills itself as the largest Christian university in the world.

Cruz riffed, unimaginatively, on an “imagine” theme, asking the young audience to “imagine a president” who would repeal Obamacare and perform other feats. There was applause throughout. But one line prompted the students to erupt into a roaring, 30-second, standing ovation:

Instead of a president who boycotts Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, imagine a president who stands unapologetically with the nation of Israel.

It brought down the house.

There can be little doubt. Evangelical Christian voters, a key component of the Republican Party base, are wild about Israel. They are also furious about what they see as President Barack Obama’s rough treatment of the current custodian of the Holy Land, Netanyahu. This fervent evangelical support for Israel could help a GOP candidate seize the Republican Party’s presidential nomination — and then capture the White House.

Israeli PM Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony at President Rivlin's residence in Jerusalem

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony at President Reuven Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem, March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Among conservative Republicans, according to a July 2014 Pew Research poll, 77 percent back Israel, while only 4 percent favor the Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Among all Republicans and voters who lean Republican, 78 percent of white evangelical Protestants sympathize with Israel, compared again to just 4 percent who side with the Palestinians.

Evangelicals have a clear passion for Israel — a passion that may even exceed that of American Jews.

Consider: Forty-six percent of white evangelicals believe that Washington is not supportive enough of Israel, according to an October 2013 Pew Research poll. Only 31 percent of America’s Jews feel the same way.

The animating force behind Christian passion for Israel can be found in the Bible. Eighty-two percent of white evangelicals believe Israel was given to the Jews by God. Among Jews, only 40 percent find a divine hand behind a Jewish Israel.

Many evangelicals firmly believe biblical prophecy that Israel’s existence is necessary to set the stage for the return of Jesus Christ.

U.S. President Obama participates in a news conference with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem

President Barack Obama (L) with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Evangelicals might also view Israel as a reliable steward of the Holy Land. Israel has maintained many Christian sites and keeps the areas accessible to visitors. Should Islamic extremists — such as Islamic State, which is busy destroying historical artifacts — ever seize control of a Palestinian state, results for sacred Christian sites could be catastrophic.

But support on the American right for Israel may also have to do with an attitude toward Islam informed by national security concerns. Pew found in a June 2014 survey that 72 percent of those describing themselves as “steadfast conservatives” believe the Islamic religion is “more likely than others to encourage violence,” compared to just 13 percent of liberals.

Traditionally, backing for Israel has been viewed as a lure for Jewish votes. That will still be true during the 2016 presidential cycle, particularly in the general election. This has long bolstered the Democratic Party, however. With Republican candidates advocating strong support for Israel, they could cause many Jewish voters to defect to the GOP, and undermine the Democratic nominee.

Jewish voters in Florida, which Obama won in 2012, counted for 5 percent of the state’s vote. Given the extreme tightness of the presidential contests there, a shift of Jewish voters to the Republican camp could turn the state from blue to red — and possibly deliver its Electoral College votes, too.

Jewish voters in swing states like Virginia, Pennsylvania, and to a lesser extent, Ohio could also have an impact. But more than half of all Jews in the United States live in New York, California and New Jersey, states that are solidly in the Democratic camp. The importance of the Jewish vote is lower than it used to be when those states were in play for Republicans.

Las Vegas gaming tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam greet Texas Governor Rick Perry as they attend the second Annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala in New York

Las Vegas gaming tycoon Sheldon Adelson (L) and his wife Miriam (C) greet Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) at the second Annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala in New York, May 18, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Jewish donors are another matter. In a 2009 survey, the Pew Research Center found that 46 percent of Jews earn more than $100,000 a year, the highest of any religious group. When you see Republicans embracing Israel with both arms, it could in part be a form of outreach for contributions. Prospective Republican candidates are already vying for the support of one particularly wealthy and generous Jewish donor in what has become known as “The Sheldon Adelson Primary.”

But money is only important in politics if it helps turn out voters. And with nearly half of Republicans describing themselves as “highly religious” — compared to only 19 percent of Democrats — GOP presidential primary candidates must pass the hat for votes in the pews.

Turning out the base remains critical to the general election. As Obama proved in both his presidential races.

Obama confounded the conventional wisdom, particularly in 2012, by running an unabashedly liberal campaign instead of making the supposedly mandatory tack to the middle. He did this by “community organizing” on a massive scale, running a relentless political machine that identified Democratic base voters and drew them in flocks to the polls.

To replicate this in the 2016 general election, Republicans will need to motivate their conservative Christian base. And an extremely effective way to do this will be to talk up support for Israel.

If relations with Israel continue to deteriorate and Obama moves to “re-assess” Washington’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian question, the importance of Israel as an election issue to those with an emotional attachment to the nation will only grow.

And a Republican could ride that wave of emotion straight to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.


Keith Koffler is the editor of the website White House Dossier and the morning news tip sheet REDLINE.


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Number of Israeli troops who served in Iraq: 0

Number of Israeli troops who served in Afghanistan: 0

Number of times per year Netanyahu whines that America does not do enough for him: 438

No wonder the republicans like Israel so much.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

One must remember that although the Evangelicals see biblical signs for Jews to regain power so Jesus Christ can return, they also believe when that happens the Jews will either convert or be killed. That isn’t brought out.

Posted by Kahnie | Report as abusive

Yes, Israel is a great friend. They bomb an American vessel in International Waters (1967–U.S. Liberty) and spy on us in talks with Iran. Real friends as long as we back their aggressive moves in the Middle East. When has Israel come to our aid in the Middle East? Never. Who has the ONLY nuclear strength in the Middle East? Israel. If they are so bent on preventing Iran from getting a bomb, let them take them out, not us. This is a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Posted by Kahnie | Report as abusive

Israel is no friend of the US and has behaved as a terrorist state in recent years. Most Jews in Israel are not the Jews of the bible but are Eastern European Jews of Persian descent and were converts. Evangelical Christians need to read Titus 10-16. They run our country, our banks and our media and determine the outcome of our elections. We have been invaded and not a shot has been fired.

Posted by Daisy207 | Report as abusive

Anti-semitic comments here get a Reuters’ thumbs-up, but my point questioning Mr. Koffler’s analysis gets censored.

Reuters’ standards are on display.

Posted by nln | Report as abusive

Few friends are more insincere than those who want Israel to succeed – as a pawn used to spark a world-ending Apocalypse.
The same evengelical Chrittians going rah-rah about Israel’s foreign policy beleive that Jews, individually, are condemned to an eternity in hell for not sharing their faith in Christ.

Posted by DonD1977 | Report as abusive

Shame on the supporters of the Democratic party for being duped by a Muslim sympathizer in the White House. President Obama’s policy regarding the Middle East shows a lack of understanding of that region at best or more likely a personal attempt to act on his personal biases and not in the best interests of the United States.

Posted by doridav1 | Report as abusive

Shame on the supporters of the Democratic party for being duped by a Muslim sympathizer in the White House. President Obama’s policy regarding the Middle East shows a lack of understanding of that region at best or more likely a personal attempt to act on his personal biases and not in the best interests of the United States.

Posted by doridav1 | Report as abusive

Israel is a socialized invention of the UN. That republicans love.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Is there even one candidate in either party who is not an Israeli Firster? What a complete capture.

Posted by russwinter | Report as abusive

It upsets me that the non-Jews who are ardently for Israel tend to believe in a Christianity of end-times theology, with followers of Jesus “raptured” into heaven while the Jews are, conveniently, left to suffer and die because, well, they are Jews, and do not believe in the divinity of Jesus. I speak as a Jew by blood, and an atheist by decision. Such as Senator Cruz want me and my fellow Jews around as sort of a pavement for them to tread upon as they proceed to a heavenly reward they would deny me. Israel’s acceptance of overtures from this crowd is not to its credit, at least in my book. That said, however, I do think Israel belongs in this world, and I do think Jews need a place to go where they are always and ever welcome. But I do not reflexively approve anything Israel says or does.

Posted by NBE | Report as abusive

Cruz is disgusting, his supporters are disgusting. His call to “Christians,” of which he is none, is a call from the Devil to his children. Jesus called Cruz a Pharisee, Jesus condemned his kind as the entire world should condemn Cruz’ kind.

Posted by SixthRomeo | Report as abusive

Walt and Mearsheimer were right.

Posted by ToshiroMifune | Report as abusive

Boy if that ain’t the truth. The Jews have a lot of cash in the US and have great influence. We all know now more than ever, that money is the God of most politicians.

Posted by cheeze | Report as abusive

The lunatic fringe like Cruz and Palin never have a chance, of course, but they always make the primaries more entertaining.

Posted by pbgd | Report as abusive