Tampa journal: observations from the Republican convention

It is fascinating to attend this year’s Republican National Convention as a representative of Republicans Abroad Israel. I am received by many as an ambassador and spokesman for Israeli policies, no matter how many times I explain my Republican role.

Romney accepts Republican nomination 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Romney accepts Republican nomination 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is fascinating to attend this year’s Republican National Convention as a representative of Republicans Abroad Israel. I am received by many as an ambassador and spokesman for Israeli policies, no matter how many times I explain my Republican role. At some point, it seems easier to just go with it and explain Israel’s situation (especially in relation to Iran and the Islamization of Israel’s neighbors), and then swing the conversation back to American politics and the role the 300,000 Republican-leaning Americans in Israel can play in this election.
Israel is a hot topic here, and support for Israel (and criticism of President Barack Obama’s treatment of Israel) seems to run across the board. I’ve done radio interviews here with hosts who are more enthusiastic Zionists than I am.
Though the focus of the convention speeches has been on domestic policy, just before vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s address – the marquee event of the night – a video was featured on the jumbo screens about Gov. Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel last month. It received sustained, enthusiastic applause.
And, as described below, there are several up-and-coming Republican candidates here with strong pro- Israel convictions.
I am staying with the Utah delegation. Talk about a warm reception – these residents of America’s Zion are also committed Zionists of the Middle Eastern kind. These are people with an attachment to Israel that runs deep, and they are excited discuss it. There is no better opening line in this group than saying, “Hi, I’m Abe, from Republicans Abroad Israel.”
Many in this delegation get visibly emotional when discussing their Israel experiences and views. Even the Mormon head of Utah’s College Republicans also serves as her campus AIPAC representative. (I have it on good authority that when Ann Romney was recently in Israel, she was particularly moved by the City of David excavations). These are true friends. And there’s never a line at the coffee machine.
It’s always interesting to speak with cab drivers to get their take, particularly when they are informed that their passenger is from Israel. Yesterday, a Brazilian driver proudly told me about his wonderful Jewish neighbors back home, and that at the UN vote in 1947 leading to the creation of Israel, it was Brazil’s vote that gave Israel an unbeatable majority.
Next, a Haitian driver announced with pride that it was Haiti’s 1947 vote which was the final vote Israel received. I haven’t checked the accuracy of either statement, but it’s impressive how happy each was to share his news with me. By the way, both drivers are planning on voting for Romney. Oh, and both are black.
The Republicans get a bad rap in terms of black participation and support. Though blacks will likely vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, there is sizable black and minority representation among the delegates (including a few who are, in fact, members of the Republican Jewish Coalition) and speakers.
Interestingly, like the cab drivers, many are immigrants from the West Indies or Latin America. One can only speculate, but perhaps there are vastly different political attitudes between blacks who come to America as adults and those born here and raised with communal identity as Democrats.
Also black is Utah Republican Congressional candidate Mia Love, daughter of Haitian immigrants, who spoke to our delegation this morning before making a splash speaking at the convention. She is a very attractive, articulate, unapologetic fighter for her principles. She is of a type summed up by a statement made of Andrei Gromyko nominating Mikhail Gorbachev to lead the Soviet Union: “Comrades, this man has a nice smile, but he has steel teeth!” She is warm, yet steadfast and focused. She says everything with conviction. She is going places.
One area in which she is unapologetic is support for Israel. She insists it is critical to stand with Israel, “not a time to lead from the middle or from behind”; that anyone who doesn’t appreciate the seriousness of the Iranian threat must consciously be ignoring Iran’s words and actions; and that this is “not a time for shoulder-shrugging, but a time for shoulder squaring” to address the threats to Israel and America. Trust me, she means every word.
Senate candidate Ted Cruz, who scored a Republican primary upset, also spoke to our delegation. He is impressive. The resume alone is intimidating – Harvard Law Review editor, law clerk to Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist, and a long list of “youngest ever” this and “first Hispanic” that.
As he spoke, he walked back and forth on the dais like he was addressing a jury. As former solicitor-general of Texas, who argued nine cases before the US Supreme Court before age 40, he’s obviously done so before. He spoke with humor and conviction, and without hesitation, condescension, notes or teleprompter. He noted that early in the campaign, one poll had him running at two percent – with a 3% margin of error.
I spoke with him afterwards about how, in Israelfriendly circles, he was still considered an unknown quantity. Well, no more. Bible-quoting Cruz was not shy about his Israel support, saying that it is “overwhelmingly in the United States’ interest” to “stand unwaveringly behind Israel.” He was critical of the mixed signals sent by President Obama, and expressed “little faith that Obama would act to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”
Also impressive: Cruz was interrupted mid-sentence during our conversation by several well-wishers seeking photos with him. After a few minutes of mingling with them, he turned back to me and continued right where he left off, never missing a beat.
Another candidate worth watching in Daniel Bongino, running for Senate from Maryland. A former New York City policeman and secret service agent, he sums up his position regarding Israel in protective terms: “You don’t get to them unless you go through me.”
Interesting. And we’ve just begun.
The writer is an American attorney and political commentator living in Israel. He is Counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel.