CPAC Jews Choose Cruz

The mood of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord Convention Center in the National Harbor outside Washington, D.C., was somber. There was no electricity in the ballroom, no sign of excitement in what should be a good election year for Republicans after eight years of President Barack Obama occupying the White House.

Instead, the speakers on stage, as well as the many young activists roaming the hallways, were defensive. Defiant to strike a strong conservative tone in an election season that has been dominated by vulgar language and petty personal attacks, there was a sense of urgency in the air to unite behind a strong candidate that can stop Trump from racing towards the nomination.

Following a strong showing on Super Tuesday, Cruz addressed the gathering on Friday, repeating several lines from his stump speech albeit with more forcefulness. Cruz earned most probably the loudest applause and longest standing ovation when he berated Trump for suggesting he would take a “neutral” approach on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “As president, I have no intention of staying neutral. America will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel,” said Cruz.

Rubio, appearing in front of a roaring crowd on Saturday, said, “If you had told me a year ago that the front-runner at this stage in the Republican campaign would be a supporter of Planned Parenthood, who says he doesn’t stand with Israel, who says that, who has a long record of supporting government-sponsored healthcare, I would say on what planet would that be the Republican front-runner?”

Across the street, over 150 young Jewish students and activists attended the 5th annual Shabbaton hosted by the Young Jewish Conservatives, a grassroots coalition that unites politically active conservative young Jews.

Among attendees of the Shabbaton, the momentum undoubtedly belonged to Senator Cruz due to his strong conservative principles as well as his stance on Israel. Based on conversations with over two dozen attendees, both Cruz and Rubio received equal consideration as the alternative to Trump. Most were leaning towards Cruz based on his recent primary victories and the sense that he’s more aligned with their unabashed conservative ideals and beliefs. The angst of Trump standing as the standard-bearer for the Republican Party, as well as his recent comments on Israel, was the prime reason.

Team Cruz was on full display throughout the weekend. At the morning meal, attendees heard from Glenn Beck, a prominent conservative radio host who endorsed Cruz for president. Radio host Mark Levin (who has not endorsed any candidate in the race – JK) and Cruz’s senior advisor Nick Muzin stopped by on Friday to schmooze and Cruz’s Jewish chief of staff, Paul Teller was spotted mingling with the group after dinner on Friday night. Dr. Alan Berger, a frequent attendee who was recently appointed to serve on Cruz’s Jewish leadership team, treated the crowd with a heimish delectable chulent.

Rubio was represented at the CPAC Shabbaton by Martin Sweet, his recently announced Director of Jewish Outreach. “Had a great time this last weekend at CPAC, meeting a great group of young Jewish conservatives at the Shabbaton,” Sweet wrote in an email to Jewish Insider. “We were treated at CPAC to an electric speech from Marco Rubio, with a rousing exhortation of constitutional protection, free enterprise, and strong national defense.”

Speakers at the Shabbaton included Congressmen Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), a candidate for Indiana’s open Senate seat; Brian Mast, a U.S. army veteran and a Republican candidate in Florida’s 18th Congressional District; Phil Rosenthal, New York’s Congressman Jerry Nadler’s Republican challenger; Jason Bedrick, a former NH State Assemblyman and now policy analyst for CATO; Harold Rhode, who worked as an analyst at the Pentagon on the Middle East for 28 years; Michael Ledeen, an American historian and foreign policy analyst; Howie Slugh, an attorney who writes for national review, who shared his personal experience with the late Justice Scalia; and comedian Eric Golub.

“The incredible energy of Shabbat at CPAC’s 5th year highlights the existence of a robust community of hundreds of conservative Jewish activists who proudly embrace their religious heritage while playing a leadership role in the activities of political Right,” Yitz Tendler, YJC‘s co-founder, told Jewish Insider.

Following another round of primaries over the weekend, Cruz and Rubio both declared victory in claiming the anti-trump title. Cruz pointed to two wins and a close 2nd in the remaining contests as evidence that he remains the only candidate in the race who’s able to defeat Trump in the polls. Rubio, still recovering from a weak showing on Super Tuesday, celebrated a much-needed win in the Puerto Rico primary on Sunday. “Senator Rubio then dominated the Puerto Rico primary on Sunday, becoming the first Republican to win a primary or caucus with more than 50% of the vote – thus giving Marco the entire slate of 23 delegates awarded (the same total number of delegates awarded in each New Hampshire and Maine), and giving him a bit more than 20% of all of the delegates awarded this past weekend,” Sweet told Jewish Insider. “Of particular note, Senator Rubio pulled more than 70% of the vote, with Trump at 13, Cruz at nine, and Kasich at one. For Republicans who want to win the general election in 2016, and see the ability to attract the Latino community as important to that effort – the results were telling.

The real test will be whether Rubio will overcome the challenge and win his home state of Florida on March 15.

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