by Eli Clifton and Jim Lobe
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) spoke bluntly about his plans for raising campaign funds for his prospective presidential campaign in an interview published today on “Washington Wire,” a Wall Street Journal blog. Over a glass of Riesling, according to the account, he answered a series of questions, including how he plans to finance his campaign.
He described “the means” as the biggest hurdle facing his potential campaign, adding:
If I put together a finance team that will make me financially competitive enough to stay in this thing… I may have the first all-Jewish cabinet in America because of the pro-Israel funding. [Chuckles.] Bottom line is, I’ve got a lot of support from the pro-Israel funding.
Indeed, pro-Israel heavyweights, such as Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, and other heavyweight donors of the Republican Jewish Coalition, are emerging as the go-to funders of the Republican Party. Graham’s observation—whether meant lightly or not (or uttered under the influence of the Riesling)— tends to confirm that access to their millions is critical to the fortunes of any Republican presidential candidate in 2016.
Graham hasn’t made any secret of his desire to curry favor from the RJC’s pro-Netanyahu, pro-Likud board of directors. But suggesting that “pro-Israel funding” may determine his choice of cabinet secretaries (as well as his policies) may make even his potential benefactors squirm just a little bit in light of the purposes to which real anti-Semites who believe “Jewish money” controls the U.S. government might put such a statement.
Back in December, during a trip to Jerusalem, Graham assured Netanyahu that “the Congress will follow your lead” in pushing the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill. This was an unusual statement for a U.S. senator to make to a foreign leader in that leader’s capital, given the fact that the sitting president of the United States was ardently opposed to the bill and three weeks later vowed to veto it in his State of the Union address.
Graham is clearly hoping that Adelson and other RJC billionaires will come through for him, although his needs appear relatively modest. After referring to the “pro-Israel funding,” he riffed:
Can I raise enough hard money to get through Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina with a staff about 75?…South Carolina is unique because I’m from there. So here’s the deal. If I can raise $15 million — that’s enough and that can make me competitive…If I can perform well in Iowa to get some momentum coming into New Hampshire, hit hard here, finish in the top tier, I’ll win South Carolina and I’m in the final four.
“If I raise the money, I’ll run,” Graham told Fox News Sunday.
Fifteen million dollars is exactly what Adelson and his wife Miriam provided to keep former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign afloat for many weeks after its natural life expectancy, so it’s probably a pretty easy get for Graham. (Jim predicted last month that Graham may turn out to be the Gingrich of 2016 given his ardent courtship of the Adelsons for whom Israel—of the Likud variety—ranks as the top priority). Indeed, Adelson last month co-hosted the first official 2016 Republican presidential fundraiser on behalf of Graham at Washington’s Capitol Hill Club shortly after Netanyahu finished his March 3 address to Congress.
It was of course House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) who issued the controversial and very unipartisan invitation for Netanyahu to speak that day. Like Graham, Boehner evidently saw that the way to Adelson’s and the RJC’s heart—or rather, wallet—was through aligning the party’s position on Iran and other Israel-related issues as closely to Netanyahu’s as possible.
Significantly, Boehner told the Fox News Channel Friday that he’s hoping Obama and the other P5+1 leaders will be unable to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran that would curb its nuclear program. The comment no doubt came as music to the ears of both Bibi and Adelson. Asked if he thought a comprehensive agreement could be reached by the end-of-June deadline, Boehner said, “I would hope not.”
Graham and Boehner may have correctly identified the RJC and “pro-Israel funding” as the key to the party’s 2016 fortunes, but if they are expecting Jewish voters to back them, they are likely to be disappointed. A Gallup poll released earlier this year showed that, while there has been a small reduction in Democratic Party identification among Jewish voters, as a group, Jews still identify pretty overwhelmingly as Democrats—by a 61-29 margin. Suggesting that he would appoint an all-Jewish cabinet is not likely to win Graham much favor among the many Jews whose politics not only are considerably more liberal than his but who have also been made ever more uncomfortable by Bibi’s blatant efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy, as well as Israel’s rightward drift under Likud’s leadership.
Still, Graham should make a greater effort to avoid feeding anti-Semitic tropes (even over a glass of wine on the high-intensity campaign trail), as much as Adelson himself seems to invite them.