As a teenager growing up in Philadelphia, Benjamin Netanyahu became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Two decades later, upon his appointment as a senior Israeli diplomat, he was forced to give up his dual citizenship. Netanyahu has no vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But had he still been eligible to vote, his preference remains a mystery.
Conversations with those close to him in recent years yield two versions as to the prime minister’s feelings. The official narrative is that “the prime minister is scrupulously not taking sides in this election.” Which seems to be true. Those who are less formal add that Netanyahu “simply doesn’t know who to support this time. He’s frightened of both candidates.”
For a man who prides himself on both knowing his own mind and being an expert on U.S. politics, that’s saying quite a lot.
Of course, Netanyahu is a Republican. His views on social matters, the economy and foreign policy have long been in sync with mainstream GOP thinking – or at least with what once passed for that. And while he has many contacts within the Democratic Party as well, his level of friendships and support among Republicans easily surpasses anything on the other side of the aisle.
But what kind of a Republican is Netanyahu, in an election cycle in which the very meaning of that definition has been so fundamentally challenged?
For want of a better description, Netanyahu is basically a Reaganite. His political coming of age was as a diplomat in New York in the 1980s – the Reagan years. And while the city itself resisted the charms of “the Gipper,” Netanyahu’s milieu was mainly from that part of Manhattan that saw Reagan as representing their interests and worldview.