LOS ANGELES, January 7, 2016 — With less than one month before the February 1 Iowa caucuses, Republicans still have 12 presidential candidates to choose from. Thanks to the Republican Jewish Coalition, voters got to see and hear almost all of them in the most substantive way possible.
The RJC is the premiere organization linking those who share the religion of Abraham and the political party of Abraham Lincoln. As in 2007 and 2011, the 2015 forum was far more important than a debate. Fourteen candidates were invited to speak. Of the 13 who accepted the invitation, two have since dropped out of the presidential race.
With most presidential debates, candidates get maybe one or two minutes to talk as they compete for airtime and battle with moderators.
At the RJC forum, all 13 candidates who attended were given around 20 to 25 minutes to make an uninterrupted presentation. The ones who used their entire time ducked having to answer questions, to the dismay of the attendees. Those who did take questions from RJC executive director Matt Brooks were treated as seriously as anyone facing a job interview for the toughest job in the world.
In alphabetical order, the current candidates who attended were former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, retired businesswoman Carly Fiorina, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and businessman Donald Trump.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was invited but did not attend; an unexpected set of votes in the Senate conflicted with his scheduled speaking slot.
For those who attended, the event was not about politics, and it was certainly not about process. It was about policy.
Many members of the Republican Jewish Coalition are primarily interested in Israel. One sure applause line is to promise to move the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Attacking the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic is another sure-fire way to excite the RJC crowd. Candidates who take tough stands on Iran and radical Islam are guaranteed a warm reception.
But the RJC audience is sophisticated enough to spot pandering. The audience is Jewish, but the group is the RJC, not the JRC. These are Republicans who want to hear where the candidates stand on Republican issues. The candidates are expected to be clear on taxes, spending, gun rights and a host of other issues.
The RJC forum is not any more of an election predictor than the Iowa caucus or New Hampshire primary. In 2007, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson all gave presentations that were received far more enthusiastically than the downbeat words of eventual nominee John McCain.
What this forum does is remove the excuses any candidate may have with regard to media attention. All 13 presenters had ample time to speak. Some of them devoted their entire presentation to Israel and Jewish issues. Others spent almost zero time on this, insisting that their records spoke for themselves. The crowd generally agreed with the candidates who said this.
Clear divisions emerged on abortion, immigration, intervention in the Middle East and even whether to require Israel to take any further steps for peace. Some of the candidates were lighthearted while others were stone cold serious. Some were proud to be among long-time friends while others were being introduced to the RJC attendees for the first time.
One area of agreement between the candidates and the RJC attendees was that every single one of the candidates in attendance would make a better president than Hillary Clinton. They would all do a better job than President Barack Obama. This event focused on serious policy solutions to vexing complex problems.
There will be plenty of time in the coming days to dissect the remarks, actions, and inaction of the remaining 12 candidates in detail. Their words can be compared and contrasted with their deeds. For now, political junkies and casual voters alike can be thankful that this forum occurred. Voters constantly complain that too much of politics focuses on the least substantive aspects of politics. Obsessions with delegates, electoral votes and demographics receives outsized attention, especially in the early states.
Not this time. Not here. The 2015 Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates Forum brought the most in-depth look at the candidates that most voters will ever see.
Each presentation is linked to this column. Watch them all. Take notes. Then watch them again.