The Cleveland debate: Republican resurgence

By MARC ZELL
August 10, 2015 22:11
US presidential candidate and Republican senator of Florida Marco Rubio

US presidential candidate and Republican senator of Florida Marco Rubio acknowledges the applause of the audience after speaking at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's forum in Waukee, Iowa. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The conventional wisdom after Barak Obama’s re-election in 2012 was that the demographic shifts in the United States all but precluded the Republican Party from ever regaining the White House absent a complete abandonment of the GOP’s domestic and foreign policy platform.

Two things have happened since Mitt Romney’s defeat in the last presidential cycle to confute this false prophecy.

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The first was the GOP landslide in the 2014 mid-term elections when the party captured the Senate by a wide margin, increased its majority in the House of Representatives and held 31 out of 50 state governorships. The second happened last Thursday at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena (home of the almost NBA champions the Cleveland Cavaliers and their Israeli coach, David Blatt), when a record 24 million Americans tuned in to watch the first Republican presidential primary debate for the 2016 election.

There is a long road ahead to the primary election season and thence to November poll, but this much is certain: it will not be a Democratic walkover as those same pundits were predicting, whether or not Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic nomination – the GOP is back. That bodes well for Israel, America and the world.

One other thing is for certain: the Republican primary race will be both dramatic and substantive. The sheer number of Republican Party candidates (now standing at 17), the tightness of the race and the presence of a spoiler, in the person of flamboyant and unpredictable iconoclast Donald Trump all make the outcome of the GOP nomination anyone’s guess. Those same pundits predicted that Jeb Bush, the youngest scion of the Bush dynasty, would walk away with the nomination and that the 2016 election would be a re-booted Clinton-Bush contest. He had the connections, the experience, the name recognition and the finances to make his nomination a cake-walk. But that has not materialized...

yet, as he finds himself trailing Trump by a significant margin and is in a deadlock with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Thursday night’s debate was historic. First, there was not one debate, but two. The main event was preceded by an afternoon forum referred to as the “Happy Hour Debate” featuring the “bottom” seven candidates [ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former New York governor George Pataki, former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, former US Senator Rick Santorum and current South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

By all estimates Fiorina emerged as the clear winner.

Expect her to move up into the top 10 for the next scheduled sanctioned debate, at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California on September 16.

A few hours later some 2,000 invitees crammed into Cleveland’s basketball arena to watch the premiere debate.

The atmosphere was electric and we were not disappointed.

The 10 participants (Trump, Bush, Walker, Paul, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and neurosurgeon Ben Carson) prompted by the Fox moderators engaged in a spirited, yet substantive twohour discourse that spanned a wide range of issues: abortion, same-sex marriage, jobs and the economy, the Iranian Nuclear Agreement, Islamic State, the Middle East and Israel, immigration reform, tax policy, cyber-security, terrorism and domestic surveillance and of course Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee (whose prospects have been plummeting of late while those of Joe Biden are on the rise).

Unlike the caustic and destructive debates of the 2012 presidential cycle, Cleveland’s opening event was serious, issue-focused and for the most part mannerly.

To be sure, Donald Trump got in a few quips aimed at demonstrating his disdain for political correctness and there were sharp but substantive exchanges between Christie and Paul and between Paul and Trump, but the debate was captivating and the audience was enthralled. Rubio was masterful. Walker was presidential. Kasich, Cruz and Christie were effective and Bush held his own. Each of the candidates brought his or her own special perspective and personality. But they all agreed on one thing: the foreign and domestic policies of the Obama administration have been disastrous.

The post-debate polls are mixed about who won the first debate, but there is little doubt that the GOP presidential race is going to generate great interest among voters in a way that will bolster the party’s chances as the primary season approaches. Though he is a wild card, Trump has touched a nerve among the Republican base and his presence in the race further stokes the public interest. For one thing Trump has taken aim at political correctness and the public likes it.

At this early juncture Trump’s candidacy is good for the GOP and good for democracy.

I attended the Cleveland debate as a guest of the Republican National Committee in my capacity as vice president of Republicans Overseas and as co-chairperson of Republicans Overseas Israel. At stake are the votes of nearly nine million Americans living abroad, including nearly 400,000 in Israel. In 2016 American expatriates registered in the “battleground” states may well be the key to the Oval Office.

For most Americans overseas, the deciding question will be the parties’ stance on a controversial statute known as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”). This law, strong-armed by Obama and his Democratic Congress in 2010, has wrought havoc with Americans living abroad everywhere. Individual Americans have been stigmatized by the banks and financial institutions.

Our ability to conduct our personal and business affairs has been compromised, while foreign governments have been transformed into hand-maidens of the IRS.

More importantly, our constitutional privacy rights have been trampled. FATCA requires Americans with assets abroad to disclose details of their private financial affairs in a manner that would positively shock our countrymen Stateside. Unless something is done, foreign governments including Israel will start turning over this information to the IRS on October 1. That is why Senator Rand Paul and five other plaintiffs, including myself, have filed suit in federal court to block enforcement of FATCA on the grounds it violates the United States Constitution – a ruling on the preliminary injunction is due before September 30. That is why legislation inspired by Republicans Overseas is being introduced in Congress to repeal FATCA.

From all reports the fight against FATCA is prompting Americans abroad who have supported the Democrats in the past to switch to the GOP, which has pledged to abolish FATCA. In Israel support for the GOP runs high because of the Obama administration’s policies concerning Israel, the Middle East and the world at large.

FATCA is yet another reason for Americans living in Israel and elsewhere to want a Republican in the White House on January 20, 2017. And that is why the race for the White House that began in Cleveland last week is more important for voters overseas than ever.

The author is a practicing international lawyer in Israel and the United States. He is co-chairperson of Republican Overseas/ Abroad Israel and vice president of Republicans Overseas.


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