"You're not going to support me, because I don't want your money," candidate Donald Trump famously told a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) in December 2015. Delivering a speech laden with distasteful jokes about Jews and their alleged financial skills, Trump left the audience of bigwig Jewish Republican donors and activists uneasy. Few took him seriously, preferring Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, John Kasich or even Ted Cruz.
Fast-forward to spring 2018 and an email alert sent out by the RJC to its supporters. Thanking President Trump "for keeping your promises," the alert urged members to send in a donation celebrating his first 500 days in office. Dozens of other RJC statements had already praised Trump, celebrating his policies and marveling at the steps he has taken in the Middle East.
Jewish Republicans, who comprise roughly a quarter of Jewish American voters, were almost torn apart by Trump's ascendance to power. And the RJC had to navigate the gulf between those who could not fathom the idea of having Donald Trump as their candidate and those who bought into the Trump message. Now, however, they have all but coalesced behind the leader--some enthusiastically, others grudgingly.
What happened in the past two years to turn around so many Jewish Republicans? "There was Iran and there was Jerusalem," responds one RJC board member, who still finds it hard to say a good word about the president's personality, conduct or performance. "These are issues every Jewish Republican fought for. We can't ignore what happened in the past year."
Trump remains widely disliked in many Jewish Republican circles, including among RJC board members and donors. The RJC is still divided, but not in the apocalyptic way some had envisioned early on. The fault line is now between true believers (or, at least, early adopters) and those who might still feel queasy seeing Trump's name on the ballot but appreciate many of his actions and are willing to provide as-passive-as-possible support. The early-adopter camp includes megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who was critical of Trump early on but became his biggest supporter after exacting a pledge from Trump to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Another loyalist is Lew Eisenberg, a Goldman Sachs banker who served as the Republican National Committee's finance chair during the election and was later rewarded by Trump with an ambassadorship to Italy.
Others in the Jewish Republican camp still have many...