Yesterday, in one of the stranger moments of the earliest stages of the 2016 Republican nominating season, Ted Cruz, a Republican Senator from Texas and likely presidential aspirant, got booed off the stage at an event in Washington hosted by an organization called In Defense of Christians for proclaiming his support for Israel and the Jewish people. As Cruz left the stage, he told the crowd, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you. Good night, and God bless.”
It is reasonably evident that incident will only benefit Cruz. In today’s Republican Party it is impossible to be too strongly pro-Israel, and there’s no better way to demonstrate that support than by being booed offstage for loudly and unambiguously proclaiming it. The line that had drawn the boos from the crowd was “Christians have no greater ally than Israel. Those who hate Israel hate America.”
Cruz could not have been surprised, or disappointed, by the response his comments met, but the event is nonetheless strange on several levels. First, Cruz’s deeply Christian rejection of anti-Semitism: “If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians, who behead children, are the very same people who target Jews for their faith, for the same reason,” is admirable and welcome.
The politics of this, however, are striking. If the Republicans make big gains with Jewish voters in 2016, they might get 40% of those voters — that’s about the high-water mark set by Reagan in 1984. But if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, even that goal will be unreachable (for context, McCain got about 22% of the Jewish vote in 2008 and Romney about 31% in 2012). Mr. Cruz’s remark were aimed not at Jews considering supporting the Republican Party, but at fundamentalist Christians for whom support for Israel and philo-Semitism are now important parts of their political ethos. Thus, in a confusing twist on what was almost his Sistah Souljah moment, Cruz sought to demonstrate his pro-Jewish credentials to win stronger support among fundamentalist Christians by being booed off the stage at a multi-faith event.
Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell