So Bernie Sanders won't be the first Jewish president-here are 10 people who could be
April 17, 2020
By Philissa Cramer, Gabe Friedman, Ron Kampeas
(JTA)—When Bernie Sanders announced on Wednesday that he was suspending his presidential campaign, he closed the door on the last sliver of possibility that America would elect its first Jewish president in 2020.
That leaves Jewish White House history to be made. Here are 10 people who could be positioned to make it—one day. (Don’t read anything into the order—it’s alphabetical.)
Mark Cuban shares at least a few qualities with Donald Trump: He’s a wealthy businessman who has made a flashy name for himself in pop culture, through a big TV show (“Shark Tank”) and by being the passionate, always-on-the-sidelines owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
But politically he is more akin to a fiscally conservative, socially liberal, all-around moderate independent like Mike Bloomberg, and a Cuban campaign would likely focus on his ability to use his business acumen to get things done in Washington. He’s toyed with White House bids in the past.
Elected mayor of Minneapolis in 2017, the 38-year-old Frey is just starting his political career. But Minnesota has been a launching pad for many politicians with national ambitions (though none has yet made it to the White House). A Democrat who wants his city to add more affordable housing, Frey made the national news last year when he declined to provide security for a local Donald Trump rally—a decision that caused the president to lash out at him on Twitter.
“The moral imperative outlined by ‘tikkun olam,’” Frey told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last year, referring to the Hebrew phrase for the Jewish precept to heal the world, “is something I believe in strongly and is foundational both to Judaism but also my philosophy in government.”
The mayor of Los Angeles since 2013, the 49-year-old Garcetti declined a presidential bid for 2020 but did not rule out a future White House run. Indeed, Garcetti fueled speculation about his ambitions by visiting states with early primaries, including Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire. In addition to pursuing progressive policies for Los Angeles, Garcetti has already waded into the perilous waters of Middle East politics, saying on a trip to Israel last year that he is “both pro-Palestine and pro-Israel” but also supported President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy there to Jerusalem.
The current chairman (and former CEO, for 15 years) of The Walt Disney Company, Bob Iger has won respect throughout his industry and beyond for taking the corporation to new levels of success and relevance. Executives who pressured him to run in 2020 saw him as a foil to Donald Trump: smooth, composed, intelligent and moderate politically.
Polis, a Democrat, became the first openly gay governor in the United States when he was elected in 2018, defeating the incumbent Republican holding the post. The 45-year-old made millions of dollars in tech before entering politics, and ran for governor on a platform calling for a transition to renewable energy, publicly funded early childhood education and reductions in income inequality.
“I derive a lot of the values that I try to bring into the public sphere from my private faith,” Polis told JTA in 2017.
J.B. Pritzker had the political chops going into the coronavirus crisis to consider a run for the presidency: He won the governor’s race decisively in a major Midwestern state; he has long been involved in Democratic politics; and he is the scion of his philanthropic family’s hotel fortune. Now his plain talk and clashes with Trump during the crisis have elevated him in the eyes of Democrats.
Pritzker, whose sister Penny sat in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, has credited his Jewish upbringing in the family that founded the Hyatt hotel chain for shaping his outlook. He has served on the board of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and praised the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the lead Jewish immigration advocacy group, for helping his family settle in the United States after fleeing pogroms in Ukraine in 1881.
Schiff, a U.S. congressman from Southern California since 2001, played a starring role in the impeachment trial of Trump in early 2020, drawing ire and possible threats from the irascible president. As the head of the House Intelligence Committee, he was the lead prosecutor in the trial, and while a Republican-majority Senate ultimately acquitted Trump, Schiff’s powerful closing testimony made him a hero for many of those hoping for a different outcome.
Shapiro, a 48-year-old Democrat, won Pennsylvania’s attorney general race in 2016 at a time when Trump carried the state in the presidential race, so it’s clear he has some crossover appeal. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both backed his candidacy, and Shapiro also has a fan in the head of the Philadelphia-area Jewish day school from which he graduated.
“I would love to see him as the first Jewish president of the United States,” the school leader told JTA in 2018. “I and everyone else here would sign onto his campaign.”
Shapiro says Jewish values influence his work, which has included documenting abuses by the Catholic Church.
“Fundamentally, Judaism is teaching that none of us is required to complete the task, but neither is any of us free to refrain from it,” he told the Philadelphia Jewish Voice in 2008. “It is really what guides me in my public service.”
The freshman Democratic congresswoman is part of the prominent “Gang of 9” and a rising leader in the party’s moderate wing who led a push to get moderates to back Trump’s impeachment. Her level of ambition isn’t quite clear yet, but some predict an even higher ascent for the tough Michigander and former CIA analyst who turned her Rust Belt House seat blue.
The president’s daughter has the most White House experience of anyone on this list, having worked as a senior adviser for her father since he was elected in 2016. Ivanka Trump hasn’t expressed any specific political goals, but her father promotes her heavily: Just this week, he suggested that she had created 10 percent of all jobs in the United States.
Ivanka Trump became an observant Jew after converting before marrying Jared Kushner in 2009, and has since spoken out against anti-Semitism. Kushner’s portfolio in the Trump White House, which includes the Middle East, suggests that he might harbor political ambitions of his own, but Ivanka is the one whose name gets thrown around when discussions of a Trump dynasty arise. She and her brother were the top finishers in a 2019 poll about Republicans’ preferred candidates in 2024.