Where Jeb’s Jewish Backers Go From Here
Many of Jeb Bush’s supporters and longtime friends expressed their disappointment in the outcome that caused the former Florida Governor to suspend his campaign on Saturday night.
“I’m very disappointed that the rest of America didn’t agree with me, but they certainly spoke,” Fred Zeidman told Jewish Insider on Sunday. “I always felt Jeb was the best candidate to beat whoever the Democrats put up.”
“Times have changed, the country has changed, the electorate has changed,” Mel Sembler, former RNC finance chairman and board member of the pro-Jeb Bush super PAC Right to Rise, was quoted as saying by Tampa Bay Times. “I don’t understand our country anymore.”
Just one year ago, Jeb was considered by many to be a leading contender for the 2016 Republican nomination. On June 15, the son and brother of former Presidents presented himself to the American people as an accomplished conservative leader with the best experience needed to win back the White House. On August 25, the Bush campaign launched the largest ‘National Jewish Leadership Committee’ for a presidential primary contender, consisting of 71 prominent members of the Jewish community.
As Donald Trump gained in the polls and dominated the news cycle on a regular basis, Jeb’s early supporters maintained hope and confidence that their struggling candidate would perform well enough in the Iowa caucuses and then ultimately win the New Hampshire primary. Despite spending a significant amount of time and resources in the Granite State, Bush came in with a disappointing fourth-place finish, barely ahead of Marco Rubio, who days earlier surprisingly wilted under sustained attack by his rivals. On Saturday, after finishing fifth in the SC primary, Jeb told his supporters, “The people of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken. I respect their decision. So, tonight, I am suspending my campaign.”
Jewish Insider spoke with some of Jeb’s leading Jewish supporters to hear their thoughts on Jeb’s campaign and the state of the race going forward.
“I am still very much despondent about Jeb’s unexpected departure from the race,” Thane Rosenbaum, an American novelist and law professor, told Jewish Insider via email. “I thought he was the superior candidate with the right attitude and policy proposals toward Israel, the Iran [nuclear] deal, and global anti-Semitism–issues that matter to me greatly.”
“Having been ‘Associate Jewish Coordinator ‘ for the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1992, against George H.W. Bush, it was ironic that Jeb’s was the first Republican Presidential campaign in which I became engaged,” Michael Granoff explained. “Jeb’s appeal across party lines as Governor (of Florida) played a major role in my decision because I believe political polarization is eroding the country’s fabric and hampering its ability to deal with very real national security threats.”
Noam Neusner, a WH Jewish liaison in the Bush 43 administration, shared his experience in the short-lived campaign of the younger Bush. “Working for Jeb was immensely rewarding. He is a great boss — lively and upbeat,” said Neusner. “He cares deeply about ideas and governing, and public service — and his staff and volunteers all could see it in everything he did as a candidate and before that as a governor.”
Scott Arogeti, who was appointed as the White House liaison to the Jewish community in the last year of the George W. Bush administration, had only words of praise for the former Florida Governor. “Jeb Bush is a patriot that ran an honorable, substantive campaign aimed at helping millions of Americans reach their full potential,” Arogeti told Jewish Insider. “Additionally, his consistent support for reasserting and strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship was genuine, and deserving of both our respect and our gratitude. I’m proud and thankful to have been a small part of his team.”
Members of the “Right to Rise USA” super PAC, took pride in their work on behalf of their candidate despite burning over $100 million in the past few months. “I’m proud to have supported Jeb,” Charlie Spies, the leading counsel to Right to Rise, related to Jewish Insider. “His campaign focusing on policy solutions and an optimistic vision that was an example of the best in our politics. It was also great to see President George W. Bush back on the trail in SC this week. Both he and Jeb have been steadfast friends of Israel and their leadership in a dangerous world is in stark contrast to the failed ‘leading from behind’ of the Obama administration.”
Jason Lyons, founder and CEO of the Wall Street Conference and a political expert, explained what went wrong for Jeb in this unpredictable political season. “We’re in a particular time right now when voters are very upset and looking for someone who says exactly what’s on their mind without thinking twice,” Lyons asserted in a phone conversation with Jewish Insider on Sunday. “Jeb is not that person. His message was not able to resonate since that is not part of his DNA. Donald Trump did an effective job painting Jeb as low energy. The irony is, knowing Jeb, he is anything but low energy.”
According to Lyons, Jeb’s physical makeup suggested the opposite. “You know, he lost a significant amount of weight going into this election and with all the traveling he’s done, one could make the argument that he actually had more energy than anyone else,” he maintained.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Jay Lefkowitz, a senior partner at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm, who also served as President Bush’s Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, summed up the outcome of the recent primaries. “We’re seeing a political year in which both parties, voters are favoring fringe candidates. It could well be that the Republican Party is on its way to nominating Trump as its nominee, which a year ago was unthinkable.”
Looking forward, Ronnie Krongold, a longtime friend and supporter of the Bush family, said he’s confident Jeb “will continue to support conservative principles and the State of Israel, even though he is no longer in the presidential contest.”
“Jeb is a serious leader, who assembled a presidential policy team. I hope he stays in public life,” added Sander Gerber.
In terms of supporting any of the other candidates remaining in the race, many pointed towards Marco Rubio as their favorite. “I think Rubio is the most attractive candidate in the race. I am sure other donors will also shift their support to Rubio,” said Lefkowitz. Adding that the outcome of the Florida primary on March 15 will determine whether Rubio could beat Trump and win the nomination.
“The only one that I could foresee having the potential to build bridges is Marco Rubio,” Granoff stated. “Watching his appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations last spring, I was enormously impressed with his granular grasp of fundamentalist Islamic threats, and by his moral clarity. Likewise, I was impressed with his thoughtful response to the controversy surrounding Apple’s decision to challenge Federal authorities on the San Bernardino iPhone. It is my hope that, despite my discomfort with some of his positions on social issues, despite his young age and lack of executive experience, Senator Rubio will be able to parlay his eloquence and command of issues into an ability to inspire Americans across the political spectrum – and begin to bring them closer together.”
Former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman also announced he was shifting support to Rubio. “With Bush out, I’m clearly on Rubio’s team. I’m not sure whether that helps or hurts. I thought Jeb was the most qualified to be president,” Coleman said in a statement, according to Star Tribune. “But Rubio clearly is our best hope and most qualified to be commander in chief with Jeb out of the race.”
The rest remained undecided, saying they would need time to assess before deciding whom to back. The consensus, however, was that the Republicans must nominate a candidate who can beat the Democratic nominee in the fall. “You can put me in the undecided column,” Krongold told Jewish Insider. “Where I’m not undecided is with regards to the Democratic candidates. We must not allow either of them to end up as President.”
“We all miscalculated,” Zeidman conceded. “We need to sit back and assess who has the best chance to beat the Democrats.”
Lyons offered some deeper analysis on the state of the race. “It’s a three and a half man race,” he said. “I say three and a half because Kasich has to be still involved since Ohio is a swing state. It would be in the best interest of the remaining candidates to come together after Super Tuesday and decide who will be the nominee, the VP candidate, Secretary of State, etc. I would just add that Marco and Ted are very gifted individuals. At this stage, the remaining candidates should begin to unify the party. The Republicans have a real opportunity to recapture the White House if they stop killing each other one by one.”
If Donald Trump continues winning states in March, Lyons suggested that it would be time for the establishment “to rally around him as well and support him.” But he also offered some unsolicited advice to the Republican presidential frontrunner: “It’s time for Trump to tone down some of the rhetoric and start embracing the establishment.”
Granoff, however, said he would refuse to accept the idea of supporting Trump in the general election. Instead, he added his voice to the recent chatter around Mike Bloomberg running as an independent. “If the circus continues, and Trump prevails as the GOP nominee, then it is my conviction that it would be a moral imperative for someone richer than him to enter the race. Maybe someone richer than him who popularly governed the nation’s largest city for over a decade,” he recommended.