Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with an iconic view of Jersualem’s Old City in the background, touted President Donald Trump’s foreign policy record in a Republican National Convention speech on Tuesday, a pitch aimed more at Evangelical Christians than Jewish voters.
Pompeo’s videotaped speech, from a King David Hotel balcony, triggered controversy: He is the first Secretary of State in memory to speak at a political convention — and he did so while on an official government swing to Israel, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Trump’s disdain of traditional diplomacy may ”not have made him popular in every foreign capital, but it’s worked,” Pompeo said.
Turning to the Mideast and Iran, Pompeo noted that Trump ordered the strike killing Iranian terrorist Qasem Soleimani — and that under Trump, the U.S. exited “from the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran,” a move applauded by the Israeli government.
Moreover, “Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to this very city of God, Jerusalem, the rightful capital of the Jewish homeland. And just two weeks ago, the president brokered an historic peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. This is the deal that our grandchildren will read about in their history books,” he said.
Trump won a first term in 2016 with overwhelming support of white born-again or Evangelical voters, exit polls showed. In 2020 he needs to equal or surpass that turnout to beat Joe Biden.
Those same surveys show about three-quarters of the Jewish vote was for Hillary Clinton.
Trump is banking on two issues to crank up the Evangelical vote — appointing anti-abortion federal judges and his U.S.-Israel policies.
He announced on Aug. 13 a peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates — a major Trump foreign policy achievement. Pompeo is in the region trying to land more Arab nation partners, so Trump can preside over a signing ceremony at the White House before the election.
How do I conclude that Pompeo’s speech from Israel is about the Evangelical vote?
Trump told me so.
He is nakedly transparent when he talks about Israel and U.S. Jewish and Evangelical voters.
As recently as Aug. 17, during a campaign speech in Oshkosh, in swing-state Wisconsin, Trump bragged about relocating the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in 2017.
According to a “Religious Landscape Study” of Wisconsin from the non-partisan PEW Research Center, Jews make up 1% of Wisconsin adults compared to 22% identifying as Evangelical Protestant.
“And we moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem,” Trump said to cheers from a crowd in Oshkosh, with a tiny Jewish population. He botched the line since what he did in 2017 was move the embassy after the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“And so the Evangelicals — you know, it’s amazing with that — the Evangelicals are more excited about that than Jewish people. … It’s really, it’s incredible.”
That wasn’t the first time Trump portrayed U.S. Jews as ungrateful.
In August, 2019, Trump said Jewish Democrats are “disloyal” to “Jewish people” and to Israel. “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” he said.
On Tuesday, before Pompeo’s address, I interviewed Dan Shapiro, an ambassador to Israel under President Barack Obama. He is now based in a suburb of Tel Aviv. Shapiro was raised in Champaign. His folks live in Chicago with a sister in Evanston.
While “it’s completely appropriate anytime, for the Secretary of State to come to Israel,” Shapiro said, “There’s no precedent for a sitting secretary of state speaking at a political convention for a very good reason.
“It politicizes the office. It politicizes U.S. foreign policy, and it politicizes key relationships, in this case, Israel, and that’s by design. They want to make Israel, a wedge issue in American politics.”
The impact? While Pompeo may be able to score some points with Evangelical voters, he may not get the political payoff he thinks he deserves from Jewish voters.
Said Shapiro, “Jewish voters actually, by and large value Israel being a bipartisan point of consensus and not a political football in American politics. “
The Biden campaign is working to turn out and fund raise from Jewish Democrats.
On Wednesday, Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, who is Jewish, host a fundraiser titled a “Virtual Conversation with the American Jewish Community.”
On Thursday, daughter Ashley Biden hosts a virtual event for young Jewish women.
On Friday, Emhoff headlines the ”Jewish Floridians Virtual Summit,” with Florida the swing state with the most Jewish voters.