Amid widespread concerns that Donald Trump is losing ground among Jewish voters, some Republican insiders are touting Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as a potential pro-Israel secret weapon if the Donald picks him as his running mate.
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Republicans close to the Trump campaign confirmed to the Washington Times that Pence is the leading choice for the vice presidential spot, which Trump says he will announce by the end of the week.
Pence has been a longtime friend of Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, ever since he took to the national stage in 2001 as a member of congress closely tied to the Christian conservative wing of the GOP.
Speculation began when Trump met with Pence at the beginning of July, and it has only heightened as Trump and Pence campaign together Tuesday. Other top candidates include Newt Gingrich, who brings his friendship with megadonor Sheldon Adelson to the table, along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who angered some Jewish Republicans by referring to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands last year.
Trump told the Washington Post Monday that he will “make up his mind in the next three or four days” regarding his running mate, which means his pick will come just days ahead of the Republican National Convention due to start Monday in Cleveland, Ohio.
Pence has said his support of Israel is deeply rooted in his Christian faith, as well as in his strong relationship with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Pence was introduced to AIPAC members in 2009 by then-board member Marshall Cooper at an AIPAC policy conference.
“Let me say emphatically, like the overwhelming majority of my constituents, my Christian faith compels me to cherish the state of Israel,” then-Rep. Pence said.
Cooper described Pence to the audience as “Israel’s good friend.”
Trump’s speech at the March AIPAC conference received condemnation from the organization’s President Lillian Pinkus, who delivered an unprecedented and unscheduled statement apologizing for what she called Trump’s “ad hominem attacks” against President Barack Obama. However, Trump’s speech was received with cheers and applause by the AIPAC audience.
Trump was received far less warmly at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s December conference, where many condemned his remarks as tinged with anti-Semitism because he accused its members of not supporting him because he didn’t want their money. Trump did not attend the RJC’s spring conference.
Many believed Pence was considering a 2016 presidential candidacy when he spoke at the RJC’s spring conference last year, firmly aligning U.S. and Israeli interests.
“Israel’s enemies are our enemies, Israel’s cause is our cause,” Pence said. “If the world knows nothing else, let it know this: America stands with Israel.”
The RJC, which endorsed Trump in May, recently condemned the candidate for failing to strongly condemn anti-Semitic statements made by some of his supporters, as well as the anti-Semitic targeting of Jewish journalists by those in Trump’s base.
In recent weeks, Trump posted a controversial image of Hillary Clinton and a six-sided star on his Twitter account. He also spoke admiringly of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s killing of terrorists, which has led to concern among members of the RJC.
According to the Wall Street Journal, RJC members have only raised $5,400 for Trump, less than .1% of the $17 million they had raised for GOP candidate Mitt Romney at this point in 2012.
Pence’s consistent record of support for the Israeli government may comfort Jewish donors who see Trump as a loose cannon. After he became governor of Indiana in 2013, Pence vocally opposed the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal. Joining 14 other state governors, Pence sent a letter to Obama in 2015 threatening to continue enforcing state-imposed sanctions on Iran regardless of the administration’s deal.
As governor, Pence also signed into law a bill that would require the state to divest from any organization — including universities — that join the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement that boycotts businesses and academics considered to be involved in or profiting off of the Palestinian occupation.
Pence visited Israel on a state trade mission in 2014, where he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Notably, on his trip Pence refused an invitation by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to join him at the head of the table during a Christmas Eve dinner, and Pence refused to meet privately with Abbas.
Up for re-election as governor, Pence faces a tight race as a May poll showed him barely leading his Democratic opponent. Pence must decide this week whether he will officially run for re-election, as Indiana law does not allow him to run for governor and vice president at the same time.