In a normal universe, a pro-Israel, Republican president on the eve of a historic visit to Israel would be getting an extremely enthusiastic send-off from major Jewish GOP donors and the organizations they support.
But as President Donald Trump prepares to head for the Middle East, leaving unprecedented domestic turmoil in his wake, the atmosphere is muted. Indeed, there are increasing signs that his shifting positions on key campaign promises have dimmed the belief of wealthy and powerful Jews that he will be so “good for Israel” that they should overlook his other flaws.
Republican donors’ disappointment with Trump is likely to have a political ripple effect, as GOP members of Congress weigh how staunchly they plan to support the president, given the tidal wave of increasingly damaging revelations about him, and his angry and defensive reaction.
With Republican congressmen keeping an eye on their pocketbooks as the 2018 midterm elections approach, the positions of key donors toward the president are nearly as important as Trump’s approval ratings among their voters.
While a CNN report on the state of Republican donors was not able to elicit a response from casino billionaire and GOP kingmaker Sheldon Adelson, it described Mort Klein – head of the Adelson-supported Zionist Organization of America and, until now, Trump’s biggest fan in the organized American Jewish community – as being “livid” over the news that broke Wednesday, clearly pointing to Trump’s intention to sign the waiver that would keep the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv for now.
“We are deeply disappointed in Trump’s mistaken action,” said Klein, adding that it “harms the credibility of President Trump.” That same day, Klein also publicly attacked National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s decision to appoint Kris Bauman as Israel adviser on the NSC, calling him “pro-Hamas.”
A scathing quote in the CNN story about the embassy’s non-move – attributed to a fundraiser “close to pro-Israel givers,” including Adelson – went a step beyond disappointment: “People think it’s a disaster. Wouldn’t mind seeing [Vice President Mike] Pence take over.”
A telling detail was the fact that Republican Jewish Coalition head Matt Brooks said the administration had not given his group a “heads up” that the revelation was coming.
Adelson is a major funding source and board member of the RJC – the umbrella group for the party’s Jewish supporters. The group’s board and membership was split over Trump’s candidacy during the presidential campaign. And since his election, some have publicly expressed unease over question marks about his Israel policy and relationship with the Jewish community.
In February, Adelson still had full confidence in Trump, telling his fellow Republican Jewish donors that Trump will be the “best president for Israel ever.”
In the past few days, though, the RJC Twitter feed has had little mention of Trump or his upcoming visit to Israel, focusing squarely on advocating for the Taylor Force Act, which would cut off all U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority unless the PA eases to support Palestinian terrorists and their families.
If passed, this legislative accomplishment would presumably take away some of the sting of disappointment for pro-Israel Republicans over the embassy, the Western Wall and the troubling news that Trump may have endangered Israeli intelligence assets through his bragging to the Russians.
But nothing that happens in Congress can replace a trouble-free 24 hours for Trump in Israel, free of gaffes and controversy, to restore the faith of the big Jewish GOP donors in their embattled president. Many of them were expected to arrive in Israel ahead of Trump, to see for themselves whether the new American president is indeed, as promised, “good for the Jews” – or whether, perhaps, President Pence would be better.