The Context and Opportunity:
This election cycle, foreign policy continues to play a more central role than in any election since 2004. National security remains a threshold issue that candidates must address before breaking through with voters on other topics. The electorate is anxious for policies that safeguard the United States and its interests abroad in an increasingly unpredictable global context.
In an effort to meet voters where they are, Trump and his acolytes on the far right are promoting an incoherent and inconsistent vision for the Middle East that is at once dangerously hawkish and naively isolationist. Trump and his allies have advocated banning Muslims from entering the country, killing the innocent families of terrorists, and tearing up the Iran nuclear agreement — among other bull-headed policies that would endanger decades of American diplomatic precedent. Meanwhile, other candidates are triangulating on matters of national security, taking for granted the hawkish premise that voters interpret strength exclusively through military intervention.
We feel that both of these approaches miss the mark.
In 2016, we’re proud to be standing with candidates who proactively project strength through diplomacy and understand that a diplomacy-first approach to the Middle East is both good policy and savvy politics. In fact, the hard-nosed brand of diplomatic engagement that produced the Iran nuclear deal has continued to represent the perfect political foil to the dangerously inconsistent and militaristic rhetoric emanating from the far right.
The memory of the Iraq War is still fresh in voters’ minds, and they therefore remain wary of further military entanglements in the Middle East. Meanwhile, a year after its signing, the Iran deal has succeeded in blocking that country’s path to a nuclear weapon without firing a single shot.
Against this backdrop, candidates who support a diplomacy-first foreign policy must go on the offense in highlighting the Iran nuclear deal as a concrete example of how dogged diplomacy can further our national security. Detractors of the deal must be pushed to answer for their opposition to an agreement that has defanged Iran’s nuclear program and made the United States and Israel exponentially more safe.
By helping to draw this contrast clearly up and down the ballot — and working to ensure that a maximum number of deal proponents win reelection and key detractors lose — J Street sees a unique opportunity to demonstrate the political efficacy of effective diplomacy in 2016 for years to come.
We set ambitious goals for our political operation this cycle to ensure that we seize this opportunity. Halfway through the third fundraising quarter of 2016, we’re on track to meet these goals and, in doing so, illustrate the substantial political support that awaits proponents of effective diplomacy:
- Our supporters are more energized than ever before. In 2014, JStreetPAC contributed more money to Democratic candidates than the other 30+ pro-Israel PACs combined. We raised $2.4 million for 95 endorsees, and 92% of our endorsed incumbents won reelection.
We set a goal of raising $3 million for 110+ endorsees this election cycle, which would constitute a 25% fundraising increase. Thus far, we’ve raised over $2.4 million of that ambitious goal, $650,000 of which was raised this past quarter. That means we’ve currently raised 79% of our 2016 goal. Our National Finance Committee also continues to grow, and currently stands at 147 members across the country.
In sum, the growth of our political fundraising operation is significantly outpacing that of prior cycles.
- We are drawing the battle lines in key races. In addition to raising the necessary resources for the many candidates we are supporting, we’ve also succeeded in surfacing the contrasts on our principles in strategic races and making the Iran deal an election issue:
- We are going on the offense. A number of high-profile detractors of the Iran deal have established hawkish track records that are inconsistent with the mainstream sentiments of their constituents, particularly in an election year where foreign policy will play an outsized role. Many have also embraced Trump’s dangerously incoherent and inconsistent worldview. Fortunately, these hawks are being challenged by our champions of effective diplomacy.
Foremost among such contests are the Senate races in Illinois and Wisconsin, which therefore remain our top priorities of 2016. Sens. Mark Kirk (IL) and Ron Johnson (WI) both signed Sen. Tom Cotton’s (AR) letter to the Ayatollahs undermining President Obama’s leadership in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Meanwhile, former Sen. Russ Feingold (WI), Johnson’s opponent, and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL), Kirk’s opponent, are both stalwart diplomacy-first leaders. Duckworth is a military veteran who was wounded in combat, and Feingold, himself a Reform Jew, established a track record in the Senate of advocating for diplomatic means of advancing the interests of the U.S. and Israel.
Both Feingold and Duckworth have been attacked for their Iran positions, and both have been steadfast in support of diplomacy on the campaign trail.
We’ve already raised over $260,000 in support of Feingold’s campaign and over $160,000 for Duckworth. Our efforts on behalf of Feingold and Duckworth have also been covered in Politico, Roll Call, The Hill, National Journal, and JTA, among others.
Understanding that these Senate races represent the frontlines of the political fight over United States policy in the Middle East, a number of neoconservative donors have even come together to form a super PAC to attack Duckworth in Illinois.
In sum, our offensive efforts in the priority Senate races of Illinois and Wisconsin have already been substantial, and these two races have been singled out as the key 2016 political battlegrounds on Middle East policy. These are fights we welcome and are ready for.
- We are defending our champions. Many supporters of the Iran deal have come under attack on the airwaves for their principled leadership. And we’ve made progress in demonstrating the significant degree of political support that such candidates can expect after standing with the majority of Americans in support of diplomacy.
To that end, we raised over $70,000 for four of our most politically endangered House endorsees at a JStreetPAC fundraiser headlined by Leader Pelosi in New York at the beginning of 2016. Overall, we’ve raised a total $709,497 thus far to defend our incumbent endorsees.
In sum, we’re succeeding in demonstrating the substantial political support that exists for candidates who come under attack on our principles.
- We are re-writing the pro-Israel playbook. JStreetPAC has now endorsed half of the House Democratic Caucus, including a number of Members serving in key leadership roles.
J Street’s student leaders also met with President Obama in the Oval Office in April to discuss our policy priorities. And, shortly after, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry spoke about the importance of the United States continuing to push Israel and the Palestinians to make tough sacrifices for a lasting peace at J Street’s gala.
In sum, the key decision-makers in Washington are standing with us in favor of active US diplomatic leadership in the Middle East, demonstrating that the center of gravity in the pro-Israel community stands in favor of such an approach.
The Bottom Line:
This election is poised to be the first “foreign policy election” since J Street’s founding. And, on the heels of the implementation of the Iran deal, we’re making the most of it. Headed into the third quarter of 2016, we’re raising an unprecedented amount of money for an unprecedented number of candidates. Through this growth, we’re signaling that those who get in the way effective diplomacy can expect to pay a political price, while those who champion it can expect to have a movement at their backs.