U.S. President Donald Trump questioned traditional Jewish support for Democrats in a stem-winding speech to Jewish Republicans in Las Vegas on Saturday.
“How did you support President Obama, how did you support the Democrats?” Trump said, addressing the annual Republican Jewish Coalition conference. “We didn’t” the crowd replied, twice.
“You guys didn’t, probably you guys in this room didn’t,” Trump said.
Jewish voters have for decades favored Democrats in elections, usually by substantial majorities of about 70 percent.
Trump received a hero’s welcome, with speaker after speaker noting his shifts in Israel policy, accommodating the hawkish policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Among Trump’s policy changes popular with this crowd: Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem; pulling the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, ending U.S. funding for Palestinians; and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
“That the president chose to be with the RJC today proves just how committed he is to the needs of the Jewish community,” CEO Matt Brooks said. “We will reward that commitment with victory in 2020!”
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Despite the warm welcome on Saturday, there were awkward moments in Trump’s hour-long speech, which he devoted to noting his differences with Democrats. He mocked asylum seekers and said of refugees, “Our country is full, can’t come, I’m sorry,” earning only mild applause. Jewish groups have generally favored generous refugee allowances.
He also addressed the RJC audience in the second person at odd moments, referring to Netanyahu as “your” prime minister, and noting what he said was the unexpected success of his reimposition of tariffs on major trading partners: “Maybe you could explain that to some of your people who say ‘Oh, we don’t like tariffs.’”
On another occasion, he said that failing to defeat the Democrats in 2020 would endanger Israel — again, using “your.” He said: “If implemeneted, the Democrats’ radical agenda would destroy our economy, cripple our country and very well likely leave Israel all by yourselves.
“The Democrats have even allowed the terrible scourge of anti-Semitism to take root in their party and their country,” he said.
Trump’s speech comes weeks after he suggested Democrats “hate” Jews and are anti-Israel. His remark followed an internal fight among Democrats over how to respond to comments by their Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, which some criticized as anti-Semitic.
Trump mockingly thanked Omar as he began his speech, before adding, “Oh, I forgot. She doesn’t like Israel, I forgot, I’m sorry. No, she doesn’t like Israel, does she? Please, I apologize.”
The Jewish Democratic Council of America scoffed at Trump’s claim to the Jewish vote, saying that it was he who was tainted with associations with white nationalists.
“Polling demonstrates that Trump’s presidency has only solidified the fact that the Democratic Party has been — and will remain — the political home of the American Jewish electorate,” said JDCA Director Halie Soifer. “This is because Trump’s policies and rhetoric are antithetical to Jewish values and because anti-Semitism has increased to unprecedented levels due to Trump’s divisive words, policies and willful blindness.”
Vice President Mike Pence also addressed the forum in Las Vegas, as did a number of leading GOP lawmakers in Congress.
The Republican Jewish Coalition is backed by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who supported Trump’s 2016 campaign and is preparing to spend millions on his 2020 effort.
The Adelsons gave Trump’s campaign $30 million in 2016. They followed that by contributing $100 million to the Republican Party for the 2018 midterm elections.
The Associated Press contributed to this report