Charleston was visited by three presidential hopefuls Sunday, starting in the morning when U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham reminded the city’s oldest orthodox Jewish synagogue he’s been a lifelong supporter of Israel.
It ended hours later when developer Donald Trump and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum spoke to Republicans at The Citadel and took shots at the White House.
All three visits show how eager the potential candidates are to squeeze in appearances where they can in this early primary voting state.
Graham, R-S.C., kicked the day off with a morning speech at Brith Sholom Beth Israel Synagogue. His address featured the familiar foreign policy threats he’s targeted throughout his Washington career — topics that have become more visible since he announced he was exploring a possible GOP White House run.
He was heavy on combating Islamic extremism and taking a lead role in the ongoing crisis in the Middle East by saying the region is too dangerous to allow Iran a nuclear weapon.
“That will put the world on course to a cataclysmic result, it would be a disaster, it would be a nightmare,” Graham told the more than 200 people assembled. “The worst possible outcome is a nuclear race in the Middle East.”
On several occasions he made parallels to the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Europe in discussing what the rise of radical Islam means for Israel today. He vowed pro-Israel policies must guide U.S. diplomacy.
“America is not going to make the mistakes of the ’30s,” he told the group. “We’re not going to sit on the sidelines and let the Jewish people be destroyed.”
Before his speech, Graham told reporters the response to his two-day trip to Iowa last week to visit with Republican voters was positive. Graham has raised more than $600,000 so far for his White House exploratory bid, he said, which is above his original budget estimate.
Graham also said he respects former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s opinions but that he didn’t support Giuliani’s recent comments questioning President Barack Obama’s love for America.
“I don’t question the president’s love for his country or his patriotism,” Graham said outside the synagogue. “I believe his policies are failing miserably.”
Trump was the featured speaker at The Citadel Republican Society’s Patriot Dinner. He spoke mainly about what it takes to get ahead in business, while only lightly addressing Washington politics. He criticized how veterans are being treated in government hospitals, the Obamacare computer rollout and how countries like China and Mexico are outmaneuvering the U.S. in global economics.
He jabbed the White House for forecasting plans to take the fight to Islamic State later this spring. “What would General Patton say about this?” Trump said. “Wouldn’t he have a few problems, folks?”
Santorum was critical of Obama’s handling of the Middle East across a variety of fronts.
“We’ve got almost two years of Barack Obama as president of the United States, and we are seeing a world as dangerous as it has ever been in our lifetime,” he said.
Santorum, who formerly represented Pennsylvania in the Senate, forecast that America’s allies are saying the next U.S. election should be about picking a wartime president. “Let’s make that happen in 2016,” said Santorum, who has two sons who are Citadel cadets.
Much of Graham’s speech was spent targeting the United Nations, saying the assembly is increasingly becoming anti-Israel. But he made numerous references to the threat of Iran getting a nuclear weapon, and the advance of the Islamic State insurgents in the region.
He pressed for public support of the Corker-Graham act, which Graham and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., say would require the Obama administration to submit any nuclear-expansion agreement with Iran to the Senate for review.
On Islamic State fighters, Graham said they want a master religion, “the way the Nazis wanted a ‘master race.’”
“If you are Christian you will convert or die,” he said. “If you are Jewish, God help you.”
Graham’s hourlong appearance at the synagogue was well-received by the group. Ambassador Opher Aviran, consul general of Israel to the Southeast called Graham “one of Israel’s greatest friends.”
Later Sunday, Graham headed for Connecticut and New York for fund-raisers and media appearances.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551