Why Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz Think
Israel is a Winning Issue against Donald Trump
By Philip Bump
February 26, 2016
During Thursday night's Republican
debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Donald Trump to explain why, in a recent
interview, Trump had said he'd
be "neutral" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ted Cruz
had raised the subject earlier, and teed off once he got a chance to address the
"Let me be clear," Cruz
said. "If I'm president, America will stand unapologetically with the
nation of Israel. ... I have over and over again led the fight to defend Israel,
to fight for Israel. And this — if you want to know who will stand with
Israel, we ought to start with who has stood with Israel when the heat was
Marco Rubio was similarly adamant.
"The next president of the United States needs to be someone like me who
will stand firmly on the side of Israel," he said. "I'm not going
to sit here and say, 'Oh, I'm not on either side.' I will be on a side. I will
be on Israel's side every single day, because they are the only pro-American,
free-enterprise democracy in the entire Middle East."
Rubio's argument is the most
obvious reason that the United States has a vested interest in the affairs of
Israel. In a tumultuous region, the U.S.'s symbiotic relationship with the
country is strategically and tactically important.
When Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu came to the United States to address Congress last year,
though, we saw that attitudes toward Israel were different, depending on
political allegiances. Republicans have long sympathized more with Israel than
the Palestinians, according to data
from Gallup, but shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the split between the
parties grew much wider. For a party that emphasizes national security,
maintaining the security and strength of Israel -- which was the explicit
argument Netanyahu made against the Iran deal — is an obvious priority.
But there's another aspect to it.
In 2014, Pew Research posed the Israelis-or-Palestinian questions to Americans,
and two trends are obvious. The more conservative the respondent, the more that
person backed Israel. And the more evangelical he or she was, same thing.
executive editor of the evangelical Christian Post, explained
why he saw support of Israel as fundamental to evangelical Christianity in a
column last year.
"A significant majority of
American Evangelicals believe that God is a keeper of His promises and that the
"Promised Land" belongs to the Jews in belief and unbelief, in
obedience and in disobedience, forever," Land wrote. "[W]e are also
admonished to support the Jews if we want to be blessed individually and
collectively as a nation. ... God has promised to bless those who bless the
Jews. I believe, as an Evangelical Christian, that the Jewish return to their
current homeland in the twentieth century was, and is, a fulfillment of biblical
The 9/11 attacks themselves
were seen as prophetic by 23 percent of Americans in a Time/CNN poll conducted
in June of 2002. That poll is noted by Timothy Weber, author of "On the
Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend," in an
excerpt published at Beliefnet. "[O]ver one-third of those Americans who
support Israel report that they do so," Weber wrote, "because they
believe the Bible teaches that the Jews must possess their own country in the
Holy Land before Jesus can return."
Cruz has repeatedly emphasized the
religious arguments for defending Israel. In his closing statement during the
debate, Cruz swore that he would "begin the process of moving the American
embassy in Israel to Jerusalem" — a reference to the long-standing
debate over whether or not the city should be recognized as Israel's
capital after it was captured during the Arab-Israeli War.
That argument is a winner for
Cruz, who is an evangelical Christian and whohopes
to re-solidy his support from that group. Rubio's argument, too, played to
his primary electorate aspirations: Focusing on the strategic role that the
country plays in foreign relations. Given the importance of Israel to
conservatives and religious voters, these responses were themselves
strategically — and, no doubt, sincerely -- offered.
If you're curious how Trump
replied to Blitzer, he replied in very Trumpian fashion.
"I was the grand marshall
down Fifth Avenue a number of years ago for the Israeli Day Parade," Trump
said. "I have very close ties to Israel. I've received the Tree of Life
Award and many of the greatest awards given by Israel."
This doesn't seem to have been
mentioned in any polling.