The Iowa caucuses are over – and the first real test of the presidential candidates’ viability gave us more questions than answers.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, won the Republican caucus on Monday night, relegating Donald Trump, the real estate billionaire, to second place. Both Trump and Cruz ran insurgent anti-establishment campaigns. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., made a strong showing for third place, well ahead of the other “establishment” candidates.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., effectively tied for first.
The New Hampshire primary is on Feb. 9, with Nevada and South Carolina later this month.
By March 2, the day after Super Tuesday, when 14 states and a territory select favored candidates, we should have some answers – like who among the 11 GOP candidates is serious, how much stamina Sanders has and what the general election might look like on Nov. 8.
In the meantime, here are some of the known unknowns for the Jewish and Middle East obsessed.
1. Will Jeb’s exclamation point turn into a question mark?
A year ago Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida, was the GOP’s favored son, literally and figuratively, despite his convoluted attempts to distant himself from his father and his brother, including dropping “Bush” from his logo and replacing it with an exclamation point.
Bush attracted the lion’s share of the party’s traditional fundraisers, including Jewish funders like Fred Zeidman of Texas, Mel Sembler of Florida and Sam Fox of Missouri. They raised over $100 million toward an extension of the Bush dynasty.
Trump, who went hard at Bush from the outset, has more or less killed that dream. Bush scored 3 percent in Iowa, and before the Iowa vote was polling at 6 percent in New Hampshire. His backers have been loyal until now, but it may be time for a reality check. Rubio – once Bush’s protege, although they have clashed during the campaign – is hoping to reap the establishment dividends of a Bush departure.
2. Is Donald Trump fired?
Before the Iowa vote, the reality TV star – who relegated dozens of would-be apprentices to the unemployment line – was well ahead in the New Hampshire race and nationally. But he has staked his candidacy on being a winner and decreed his victory in Iowa a foregone conclusion. On Monday night, he delivered an uncharacteristically subdued concession speech, promising to win in New Hampshire and consider buying a farm in Iowa.
Plenty of Jewish Republicans wouldn’t mind seeing Trump with a hoe. He has alienated a broad cross-section of the community, offending the socially moderate with his broadsides against Muslims and Hispanics, while unnerving conservatives with his dithering over whether all of Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and questioning of Israel’s commitment to making peace.
3. “Cruz and the Neocons”: A new hit band?
Cruz has been second to none in his Israel boosterism; of the four victory speeches Monday night, only his mentioned the country.
“If you want a candidate who will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel, then support a candidate who has led the fight over and over again to stand by our friend and ally, the nation of Israel,” he said.
But Cruz has also faulted neoconservatives for leading the country into too many wars, among them the signature foreign policy event of George W. Bush’s presidency, the Iraq War. The Venn diagram overlap between Jewish Republicans and neoconservatives is substantial. Cruz’s broadsides against that ideology, coupled with attacks on “New York values,” have made some Jewish Republicans wary of whether the Texan is using code to appeal to the less salutary values in the American conservative heartland.
Now that he has emerged as a front-runner, does Cruz reach out to the establishment’s Jewish wing of the party and make nice?
4. What will the Adelsons do?
Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, pro-Israel powerhouse and Republican kingmaker has taken to joking in recent weeks about his bickering with his physician wife, Miriam, over Cruz and Rubio. She favors the former, he the latter. On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, it was revealed that the couple had maxed out direct donations to Cruz’s campaign, each anteing up $2,700.
It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve made up their minds. The Adelsons gave similar amounts last year to the campaign of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., but thus far have refrained from spending the tens of millions to fund political action committees not directly affiliated with candidates. The couple have made known to associates that they do not want to repeat what they now feel was a mistake in 2012 – giving millions to groups supporting Newt Gingrich, only to wound the ultimate nominee, Mitt Romney, who lost to Obama in the general election.
With Cruz and Rubio still viable, don’t expect an Adelson determination just yet. One thing the couple will be watching is whether Rubio improves his ground game, the network of volunteers and staff necessary to get out the vote state by state. Reporting has suggested that he was surprisingly weak in this area in Iowa.
5. Does Bernie do foreign policy?
In his speeches, Sanders manages to turn typically soporific economic analysis – income inequality, banks, health care – into a rousing call to action.
Not so on foreign policy, where he has allowed himself to be put on the defensive by Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady, who has framed Sanders as naive and inexperienced – with some success.
It doesn’t help that in one debate, Sanders called for “normalization” of ties with Iran and then seemed to backtrack, or that he has repeatedly called Jordan’s King Abdullah, a monarch not especially thrilled with the democratic process, one of his heroes.
Sanders has focused on the opposing votes he and Clinton cast 14 years ago on the Iraq War: He voted against when he was in the U.S. House of Representatives, she voted for when she was a New York senator.
If Sanders hopes to peel away foreign policy-focused voters from Clinton, he will need to flesh out his plans for the Middle East in particular, where he has said he agrees with Obama and Clinton that America needs to maintain leadership.