All of the GOP presidential contenders claim to be true and loyal friends of Israel, but for most it is a political statement, grounded less in understanding than in their search for contributions from wealthy single-issue Jewish donors.
The rare exception is Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina senator, who dropped out of the presidential race today, had the best comprehension of the issues and record of support among the candidates when it came to US-Israel relations.
He's been an important figure in advancing the strategic relationship and has visited the region many times — and not just for photo-ops – often with his wingman, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), another pro-Israel shtarker.
You don't have to agree on all the details with Graham to appreciate his expertise and thoughtfulness. Unlike so many of the other candidates, when it comes for foreign and defense policy he is a serious person, not an inexhaustible bag of hot air.
He is a retired colonel in the USAF Reserve's Judge Advocate General's Corps and has served in the Congress since 1993.
The rest of the field is far behind. There's Chris Christie who plans to make Middle East policy by séance. He will consult with King Hussein of Jordan, who died in 1999.
Dr. Ben Carson made a quick trip to Jordanian refugee camps and came home confused between Hamas and Hummus. Apparently he plans to fight the pita wars.
Like Sen. Ted Cruz, he's ready to carpet bomb ISIS and just about everyone else in Iraq and Syria, and if they kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians, that's war. Cruz has an orthodox Jewish senior advisor who knows the Middle East well, but he's indicated he'd prefer to avoid the issue, especially the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, unless specifically requested by the Israeli government.
Sen. Marco Rubio is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, when he bothers to show up for work, and may be the one to pick up where Graham left off.
He and Cruz will talk a lot about supporting Israel because they are they leading contenders for the political largesse of casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who by no coincidence is also a prime Netanyahu benefactor.
I want to put in a good word for Gov. John Kasich of Ohio. I knew John when he was in the House of Representatives (he was my family's congressman) and I worked closely with him on Israel-related issues when I was the legislative director of AIPAC. He showed not only an interest but also a real understanding, notwithstanding efforts as Budget Committee chair to cut overall – but not Israel's — foreign aid spending.
Mike Huckabee has visited Israel more often than rest of them combined, but for him it is more of a religious experience than a thorough understanding of the strategic and diplomatic realities.
The rest of the crowd — Trump, Fiorina, et al — will talk the talk but their knowledge and understanding is largely superficial. For Jeb Bush it may be hereditary, but he's already taking about picking up with the war making when his brother left off. And Rand Paul may be too much of an isolationist even for today's GOP, and has spoken of cutting aid to Israel for its own good.
Trump made a TV commercial endorsing his pal Bibi in 2013 and the others may have had photo ops with the PM, but that doesn't make them policy mavens.
They're more interested in raising money than votes. That's because given the rest of the Republican political and domestic policy agenda it is highly likely Jews will once again vote overwhelmingly Democratic.