What AIPAC and Super Tuesday Taught Us About the Presidential Race
1. Does Joe’s comeback come with a Jewish sigh of relief?
Joe Biden, the comeback grandpa, had the best Super Tuesday anyone could have imagined. In fact, he performed so well, from solid wins in southern states, to surprise victories in Massachusetts and Minnesota, and an unbelievable upset in Texas, that some are already speculating that it’s all over and Biden is on a safe path to clinch the Democratic nomination.
There’s still a long road ahead, and if anything, Biden has proven time and again that he has a rare talent for ruinous missteps. But still, he is now the frontrunner in a narrowed-down Democratic field.
And while Jewish Dems are as diverse in their views about the candidates as they are on any other issue (and this is where the old joke, “two Jews, three opinions,” usually comes in handy) by and large, there’s a significant mainstream constituency that is terrified of a Bernie Sanders nomination, while feeling really comfortable with Biden as the party’s candidate.
A poll of Jewish voters, conducted by the Jewish Electorate Institute and released late last week, puts numbers behind this notion: Joe Biden has a 60 percent favorability rate among Jewish voters, with 36 percent rating him as unfavorable. This makes him the top choice for American Jews, second only to Pete Buttigieg (who has since dropped out of the race) who enjoyed the same 60 percent favorability, with only 28 percent disliking him. Sanders, according to this poll, is the Jewish Democrats’ last choice, with 52 percent viewing him favorably and 45 percent unfavorably.
There’s an important caveat: The poll also found that regardless of who the candidate is, Jewish voters will overwhelmingly back him or her against Donald Trump.
But still, Biden’s resurgence offers mainstream Jewish voters an opportunity to sit back and relax for a while. The Jewish community has known Biden for decades and has grown to like his attitude and message (and even his recurring references to Golda Meir in his standard speech to Jewish Americans, which has already become a running joke among reporters covering Biden).
It’s worthwhile taking a look at the brief video speech Biden sent into AIPAC’s policy conference this week. In just over five minutes, Biden hit all the right notes with the pro-Israel crowd, but also managed to work in some clear criticism of the Israeli government’s settlement policy and a warning against the annexation of the West Bank. This Biden approach is what Jewish Dems have grown accustomed to throughout the years: a mix of empathy, some pandering and rebuke of Israeli policies when they cross the line. This is the type of approach that many in the community (those closer to the establishment) find more palatable than Bernie Sanders’s in-your-face bashing of Israel and its supporters in America. For them, Super Tuesday was a good day.
2. Mike Bloomberg’s Jewish pitch
Had he not performed so miserably on Tuesday, entering the pages of history as the person who spent the most money on the shortest-lived and most unsuccessful political campaign, Mike Bloomberg could have been exactly the type of candidate Jewish pro-Israel Democrats would vote for.
Before heading off to the killing fields of Super Tuesday, Bloomberg stopped in person at AIPAC’s policy conference in Washington, the only candidate to do so. In his speech, studded with awkward attempts at jokes, Bloomberg delivered a healthy mix of pro-Israel messaging, some Yiddishkeit, and the type of a mainstream appeal that went directly to the hearts of those listening.
Walking out of the hall, in a sea of thousands of AIPAC delegates trying to make their way to the doors, praise for Bloomberg was heard from all corners. This is, after all, his crowd: Jewish, pro-Israel, moderate, affluent. But as Tuesday’s elections proved, this was definitely not a reflection of how voters out there felt about him.
3. Was Bernie right to boycott AIPAC?
In his decision to boycott, Sanders became the hero of a growing progressive crowd eager to see top politicians willing to challenge the pro-Israel lobby. But he also became the unwitting star of the conference he sought to boycott.
The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people. I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason I will not attend their conference. 1/2
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 23, 2020
Sanders’s attack on AIPAC was turned into a rallying cry for the thousands of participants gathered in Washington. Not a session went by without some Bernie bashing, whether it was done subtly by AIPAC leaders, boldly by Republicans such as Vice President Mike Pence, or in a pronounced political way by his fellow Democrats seeking to distinguish themselves from the progressive presidential candidate.
Bernie was probably right to skip the event. The message coming out of the halls of the Washington convention center was loud and clear: AIPAC, and for that matter, the broader mainstream pro-Israel political community, does not wish to engage or debate his approach. It is comfortable in casting Sanders as the villain, uniting the community against a common enemy.
4. Cory Booker’s missed calling
Take a few minutes to watch Senator Cory Booker’s speech to the AIPAC conference. Or just the last two minutes of it. If Jewish groups are ever in search for a charismatic speaker who can actually arouse the crowd, Booker’s their guy.
5. Trump’s peace plan, anyone?
And there were also elections in Israel this week. And yes, they were indecisive. Again.
Most analysts believe that despite not reaching the 61-member bloc needed to form a government, Netanyahu is better positioned than before to pull it off.
And at least some of the credit belongs to Donald Trump and his “deal of the century,” which did nothing to advance chances of peace in the Middle East, but provided Bibi with a useful promise to voters on the right: Vote for me and I’ll annex parts of the West Bank, as promised in Trump’s plan.
If Netanyahu is headed to another term (and there’s a big if in there) he will surely move to make good on his promise and heap even more praise on Trump and his administration. It might even prove useful come November.