Washington Watch: Pence’s Jewish appeal less than meets the eye

Unlike Trump, Pence, 57, is a genuine right-wing ideologue and has a long record to prove it.

US Republican VP candidate and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Republican VP candidate and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Mike Pence was praised in the Anglo-Jewish and Israeli media for his “strong pro-Israel record” when Donald Trump picked him as his vice presidential running mate. An Indiana friend told Jewish Insider his governor is “unabashedly pro-Israel in every respect.” What does that mean? A lot less than meets the eye.
Pence’s pro-Israel credentials, like his views on the broad spectrum of domestic and social issues, may be in line with pro-Likud and Orthodox Jewish voters as well as the GOP’s religious Right and Evangelical base, but they are far out of step with the mainstream of the American Jewish community, and may just compound the likely Trump-Pence disaster with Jewish voters.
The GOP platform’s retreat from past Republican support for Palestinian statehood (Trump has been on both sides of that issue but currently is opposed) should be no problem for Pence or some of the mega-wealthy conservative Jewish donors like Sheldon Adelson. But the real motivation is an appeal to Evangelicals who have had misgivings about Trump on Israel and many other issues.
Unlike Trump, Pence, 57, is a genuine right-wing ideologue and has a long record to prove it. He is Ted Cruz Lite, sharing many of the Texas senator’s extremist views but in a less offensive package. In fact, Cruz was his first choice for the GOP nomination.
That means he may help Trump among Christian Evangelicals, but the Indiana governor will be of little help to Trump among Jews. He reportedly wasn’t the first choice among Trump’s Jewish family members.
Reports from the Cleveland convention this week indicate that so far Pence hasn’t brought the expected boost in contributions from wealthy Republican Jews, many of whom distrust Trump and are keeping their checkbooks closed, and he’s unlikely to bring in many Jewish votes for a ticket led by a candidate who will almost be seen as a danger – to the Jewish community and the American democracy – by most Jewish voters.
Pence, however, should help cement mainstream Jewish support for Hillary Clinton. He may say all the right things about supporting Israel, but they are what the pro-Likud Right wants to hear, not the Jewish mainstream, which is overwhelmingly pro-Clinton.
Pence describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” according to The Washington Post. A Pew Research Center survey says 78 percent of white Evangelical voters, who constitute about one third of Republican voters, plan to vote for Trump. Clinton has the lead among religiously unaffiliated Americans, the report noted.
Polls have shown consistently in recent elections that for most Jewish voters, support for Israel is not a determinative issue but is often around fourth of fifth on their priority list. Jewish voters tell pollsters they have a range of priorities, including the economy, national security, health care, Social Security and Medicare, civil liberties, reproductive rights and the environment, most of which are more consistent with the Democratic Party than the GOP.
On every one of these issues, Pence stands in stark opposition to the views of the mainstream Jewish community.
Nor will his longstanding opposition to a two-state solution buy many votes in a Jewish community where Middle East peacemaking is not seen as a Satanic trick.
Pence may help with tea partiers – who wouldn’t vote for Clinton anyway – but will turn away women, gays and minorities, where the GOP already in deep trouble.
Jews have voted 70% to 80% Democratic in the past eight presidential elections; the Trump-Pence one-two punch could propel those numbers even higher.
Discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities is a leading concern of Jewish voters, according to a Pew survey, and that contrasts with Trump’s attacks on Mexicans, Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans.
Jews continue to be at the forefront of support for gay, lesbian and transsexual rights; Trump now opposes them, and Pence is even more hardcore in his views.
Pence has spoken often of how his Christian faith shapes his views on Israel as well as domestic and social policy. Many Jewish voters will ask this question: does he support Israel as the eternal home of the Jewish people – or as cannon fodder in the Christian apocalypse? As a six-term tea party congressman and first-term governor he has taken hard-right positions on abortion rights, gun control, tax cuts for the wealthy, global warming, same sex marriage and gays in the military.
He also has advocated using HIV-fighting funds to persuade gays to “change their social behavior.”
He ran into a national firestorm of criticism for signing a notorious anti-gay “religious freedom” law to permit Indiana businesses refuse to serve gays, lesbians and others by citing religious objections. The same test could be applied to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, African-Americans and other minorities. It’s not unlike the old justification for segregation.
An opponent of immigration reform, he has called for ending automatic citizenship for children born in the United States to undocumented parents and deporting them both.
The nomination is a win-win for Pence. His election to a second term as governor was very iffy before Trump rescued him. If Trump becomes president Pence will be the heir apparent, and if Clinton wins he could be a GOP frontrunner in 2020.
But for Jewish Republicans, his nomination is one more disaster in a year that could see Jews rejecting the GOP in record numbers.