This past week, in two separate events, the conservative American Jewish community showered former President Donald Trump with praise and gratitude. The differences, though, were distinct and telling.
At last Sunday’s Zionist Organization of America gala in New York City, Trump received a hero’s welcome, as he claimed the group’s highest honor, the rarely-given Theodore Herzl Medallion. Even before entering the event hall, Trump received a standing ovation each and every time his name was mentioned.
Upon his arrival, attendees tussled for positioning to secure an angle for a Trump-included selfie, with chants of “four more years” reverberating loudly through the ballroom. Trump looked at ease, displaying an affable, relaxed and humorous nature rarely seen as he basked in the glow of adoration from his voters. He had 100 percent of the attention to himself.
Contrast that with his appearance via satellite at the Republican Jewish Coalition Leadership Meetings this Saturday. Initially declining an invitation to appear, Trump reportedly saw the long list of high-profile challengers to his hold on the party slated to speak, and apparently decided he needed to set the tone, days after announcing his candidacy for the presidency again.
Yes, the crowd was warm and receptive to him. Yes, they spoke of their immense gratitude for his pro-Israel policies. Yes, some even indulged in his fantasies about a stolen crown. But, their eyes were searching elsewhere.
His former vice president, secretary of state and United Nations ambassador, together with well-respected senators and governors, were consistent in their messaging, if not in their deliveries: They said the results of the last three election cycles, including the trouncing Trump-backed candidates suffered in critical races around the country, meant that for the party to survive, it needed to turn the page.
Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Florida Sen. Rick Scott, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and others, either through direct rebukes or more subtle hints, said it was time to return the Republican party to one that is policy-driven, rather than beholden to personality and loyalty pledges. Republican Jewish Coalition Leadership said it was a time for “window shopping.”
The talk was not of the inevitably of a Trump coronation, but of how quick and how painful it would be for the party to coalesce around one or two challengers, knowing Trump could still theoretically secure the nomination with a plurality of votes in a crowded field.
Then came Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, notably headlining the event — the final speaker on the final night. Fresh off a stunning campaign in which he not only secured re-election easily, but led the rest of the ticket to historic gains in an otherwise brutal cycle for Republicans, DeSantis glowed on stage as fans rushed right up to the platform’s edge to listen, reminiscent of a teeny-bop concert.
DeSantis wouldn’t allow Trump to upstage his own pro-Israel bona fides, touting his trade missions to Israel as governor, his support as a congressman, his use of water from the Sea of Galilee for his children’s baptisms, his loud claim that Judea and Samaria is not occupied territory, but disputed. He cited his record-high support among Floridian Jews. And he still managed to speak to the kitchen table issues the party apparatus seems so desperate to re-focus on, while taking a dig at Trump as he boasted of his midterm accomplishments.
DeSantis received, by far, the loudest and most sustained applause of the weekend. Just like rally size, though, applause level does not crown a king.
But the adoration for DeSantis, and the seeming consensus that the party needs to look to the challenges of the present, rather than the grievances of the past, is indicative that the race for the Republican nomination is on, even if Trump is the only one that announced his candidacy. And that despite the Republican Jewish and pro-Israel community’s gratefulness for Trump, he is clearly not going to be the one-man show he was at the ZOA event. The fact that he can’t clear the field with his presence alone spells trouble for Trump.
Reprinted with permission from i24NEWS