The Republican Jewish Coalition’s presidential forum will begin momentarily. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman will deliver speeches to a politically active and highly informed audience.
The temptations in these settings is to roll out every Israel cliché in the book and tell them what they want to hear. The most shopworn of these is: Move the embassy to Jerusalem! Presidential candidates say it; presidents never do it. By reiterating the line, a candidate assumes the audience is dense. Platitudes are also popular here, and with President Obama in the White House there is plenty of material.
But that may not be the best use of the opportunity. This crowd has heard all of that before, and the coverage of those who follow that well-tread road will have a certain sameness to it. The candidate who doesn’t tailor his or her speech so obviously to a purely Jewish audience may be the smartest pol.
It’s like talking to Hispanics about immigration and giving short shrift to family values, school choice and upward mobility. The crowd senses you are laying it on too thick, but actually ignoring their real concerns.
The best speeches today will be those that stand out from the “Obama is horrid on Israel and I’m great” formulas.. If a pol can talk in broader terms about America’s role in the world and conservative principles in domestic policy, he or she will likely be greeted with a sigh of relief. It’s also a sign of confidence that the candidate knows the crowd understands how deeply he or she cares about Israel and doesn’t need to spend time convincing them of his or her Israel bona fides.
There are critical issues that the entire Republican Party is wrestling with: Can America remain a superpower? Are we capable of self-government and self-restraint? Can we eschew class warfare and the politics of division? Let’s see if any of the candidates can capture the attendees’ imagination on those issues. If any can, it might be a sign that pol has a unifying message that he or she feels comfortable delivering to any audience.