The delusion that never dies: Ted Cruz's doomed plan to woo Jewish voters to the GOP

Sorry, senator -- it's not happening

Published December 16, 2014 9:35PM (EST)

  (Jeff Malet,
(Jeff Malet,

To the surprise of approximately nobody, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is proceeding full steam ahead with plans to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. The Tea Party icon has already settled on a location for his campaign headquarters (Houston), made the requisite appeals to GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, and decided on a campaign strategy. That strategy, National Review's Eliana Johnson reports, centers on energizing the GOP base, not wooing moderates and independents to the Republican fold. Of course, the hard demographic truth is that a Republican can't win the presidency by relying on the party's older, white base alone, so the senator also aims to win over Jewish, Latino, and Millennial voters, Johnson reveals.

The notion that the Republicans are on the cusp of scoring big gains among Jewish voters is an old one, and while it never pans out, it reliably reappears every presidential cycle. But before we get into that, let's dispense with Cruz's fantastical idea that, in the event he were to capture the GOP nod, he'd bring large numbers of Latinos and Millennials into the GOP camp. According to Johnson, Cruz and his advisers believe that his brand of "populist and pugnacious conservatism" will attract traditionally Democratic voter groups, including Latinos and young people. This is delusional.

To be sure, Cruz's internal figures reportedly show that he captured 40 percent of the Latino vote in his 2012 Senate race, but he still lost Latinos to an opponent whom he defeated by 16 points overall. (It's also worth noting that Texas Latinos skew more Republican than Latinos nationally.) Moreover, Cruz hasn't done himself any favors among Latinos with his strident opposition to President Obama's executive action on immigration; 89 percent of Latinos, including 76 percent of Republicans, back the president's action. Meanwhile, are we really supposed to believe that a vehemently anti-gay culture warrior will convince Millennials to break with the Democrats? Please.

Back to Jewish voters. As he prepares to launch his campaign, Cruz is certainly making entreaties, Johnson notes:

He has already gone to great lengths to court Jews, making it clear that he wants their approval, acceptance, and financial support. He turned up, for example, at Commentary magazine’s annual dinner in September 2013, the only potential 2016 candidate to do so. The senator also attended New York City’s Israel Day concert and parade in June — and then raised $100,000 at Abigail’s, a kosher restaurant in Manhattan. He gave an address last month to the Zionist Organization of America, preceded by a meeting with New York Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman and followed by meetings with Sheldon Adelson and the hedge-fund manager Michael Steinhardt, former chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council. Steinhardt hosted Cruz in his office around a table with some of the Jewish community’s most influential political donors.

So Cruz has courted prominent center-right Jews and spoken at hawkish pro-Israel events -- and even set foot in a kosher restaurant! Will this convince a substantial number of Jewish voters -- 69 percent of whom backed President Obama in 2012 -- to abandon the Democratic Party? Well, Mitt Romney ran with the support of Zuckerman, Adelson, and even (tactitly) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and campaigned as an unabashed Israel hawk. Romney allies and a credulous media breathlessly speculated that Obama's Mideast policy -- laughably alleged to be anti-Israel -- would lead him to lose Jewish voters, perhaps even Jewish Democrats.

It all sounded eerily familiar. As Obama geared up for his general election campaign against John McCain in 2008, the New York Times reported that Jewish voters in crucial Florida harbored significant "doubts" about the young senator, whom many had heard was hostile to Israel. Joe Lieberman, stumping for John McCain, even suggested that the Palestinian militant group Hamas would cheer an Obama victory. Jewish voters didn't get the memo about Obama's nefariousness; 78 percent voted for him over McCain. Four years later, Romney couldn't quite muster a third of the Jewish vote.

Why? It turns out that Jews are among the most progressive voting blocs in the country. According to a comprehensive Pew Research poll conducted last year, 82 percent of Jews believe homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with 57 percent of the population overall.  By 54 to 38 percent, Jews would prefer a larger government that provides more services to a smaller one that provides fewer; only 40 percent of the overall population favored a larger government, while 51 percent supported a smaller one. A whopping 89 percent support a woman's right to an abortion, compared with 54 percent of the population overall. And we're supposed to believe that they'd support Cruz in greater numbers than they did Romney, who held the same anti-gay, anti-government, and anti-choice views, but was more diplomatic in conveying them? More bad news for the hawkish senator: foreign policy issues like Israel and Iran don't rank highly on Jews' list of priorities, and they also don't share his hardline views.

In modern American history, the closest a Republican has ever come to winning the Jewish vote was in 1980, when Ronald Reagan lost Jews to Jimmy Carter by just six points, 45 to 39 percent. Four years later, however, Jews broke strongly for Reagan's Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale, supporting Mondale over Reagan by a margin of 67 to 31 percent even as Reagan cruised to a 49-state landslide victory and captured 59 percent of the popular vote.

So here's a bold prediction: no matter whom the Republican Party nominates or which party wins the White House in two years, Jews will once again heavily support the Democratic nominee. And if the GOP were to forge a suicide pact by nominating the demagogic Tea Partyer from Texas, Republicans will likely find themselves pining for the days when Romney could at least hit 30 percent support among Jewish voters.

By Luke Brinker

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