LAS VEGAS (JTA) — Ted Cruz appealed to Republican Jews to back him for his outspoken support of Israel while acknowledging differences with the constituency on social issues and immigration.
“I recognize that is a question that many people here wrestle with,” Cruz said Saturday at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s leadership meeting, which gathers annually in Las Vegas, after one of the attendees earned applause for saying Cruz’s attitudes on abortion and gay marriage were unpopular with Jewish Republicans.
But Cruz, the Texas senator running for the Republican presidential nod, said he would not abandon his social conservatism.
“No Republican has ever won without campaigning and running as a fiscal conservative, a national security conservative and a social conservative,” he said.
Cruz was the only one of the three remaining presidential candidates to attend the RJC confab, and held separate private meetings with donors over the weekend. He is seeking Jewish support in his bid to keep front-runner Donald Trump from accruing enough delegates to win on the first round of voting at the convention. Cruz believes he can win a second round of voting.
Republican Jewish fund-raisers and activists have for the most part been skeptical of Trump and Cruz. However, all but one of the candidates they favored have fallen away. The one remaining, John Kasich, the Ohio governor, is not seen as able to win the nomination.
“We started this race with 17 candidates,” Cruz said. “Many of you started with somebody else; that’s a perfectly natural, reasonable thing to do.”
Cruz sought to assuage concerns about his social conservatism by saying he believed issues like gay marriage and abortion should in any case devolve to the states. He suggested he would not seek to impose his views as a president.
“Federalism answers a great many issues, it allows for a diversity of views,” he said.
“Nobody wants to elect a hectoring scold. I am not here to be pastor in chief but a commander in chief.”
The hard line on illegal immigration control by Cruz and Trump has also stoked concerns among establishment Republicans, particularly in the business community. Wealthier Republicans needed to acknowledge the strong feelings stroked by the issue among blue-collar voters who believe they are losing jobs to undocumented immigrants, Cruz said.
“You want to understand the rage,” Cruz said. “That frustration, that anger – median income has not changed in 20 years” for the working class, he said. “I suspect there are not many people in this room who are making today what we made 20 years ago.”
Cruz captivated the crowd with his impassioned excoriations of Obama administration policy on the Middle East, and said Democratic candidates would likely continue President Barack Obama’s policies.
“For seven years we’ve had a president who abandons and alienates our friends, and who shows weakness and appeasement to our enemies,” he said.
Obama, who has acknowledged deep differences with Israel’s leadership on Israeli-Palestinian peace and on how best to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, has also touted the increase on his watch in security assistance and cooperation with Israel.
Cruz reminded the crowd that Trump had said he would remain neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian situation, which drew boos. Trump in recent weeks has said he would favor Israel in such talks.
He drew his longest applause when he said he would on his first day launch the process to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.