September 16, 2019

Jewish voters and the Ron Paul effect

What can they say about Paul?

What happens to Jewish Republicans, or to Jews who might consider voting Republican if Ron Paul takes Iowa – not an impossible scenario according to current polling. What happens to the Obama-bad-for-Israel Republican theme if Paul becomes the leading voice of their party – even for a week (until the New Hampshire vote). What chances do GOP Jews have to finally break the unending chain of broken Jewish-shift promises. How can Jewish GOPers withstand the ensuing Democratic attack on the “isolationist”, “anti foreign aid”, “anti-Israel” party – how can they defend a party that is seriously considering the nominating for President of a candidate that Jewish Republicans defined as “a virulent and harsh critic of Israel”?

They will do it using three and a half lines of defense:

A. Iowa is not important. If Ron Paul takes Iowa GOP Jews might be somewhat embarrassed, but the real loser would be the state of Iowa. “Paul’s late surge this year may help nudge Iowa back toward political obscurity. Giving the nod to a novelty candidate like Paul would further undermine Iowa’s already shaky claim to first-in-the-nation status”, writes Margaret Carlson. My prediction: Jewish war against Iowa.

B. The Primary is a process: Wait for the final outcome (Romney, Gingrich – two better-for-Israel candidates), and don’t bother us with the ups and downs of the long campaign.

C. The other party also has its fringe characters and beliefs (weak argument until the Democratic fringe takes over at least one state in the primaries).

And a half: That’s a tricky one, but I’ve heard it, tongue in cheek, from a Jewish Republican hack who told me that “our fringe candidate might take one state, but theirs took over the party and the country three years ago”. Namely, Paul is the right-wing equivalent of Obama’s. Such a blunt message might fly with some extremely unhappy voters, but would not sway rank and file on-the-fence Jewish Floridians.

A Paul Iowa victory will, no doubt, make life more complicated for the forces of Jewish Republicanism. The Pauls, Ron and son Senator Rand Paul, “have handed the Democrats a handy tool to use every time the Republicans bring up Jesse Jackson, Rep. Jim Moran and others as ‘proof’ of a Democratic Party that is turning away from Israel”, Jim Bnesser wrote two months ago. But will it have real impact on voters? And what kind of impact? Some Jewish Democrats have suggested that the Paul surge can be even more devastating than the Sarah Palin effect on Jewish voters back in 2008. So I had to go back and revisit the Palin effect – or should we call it the Palin myth?

The Palin effect

The story of a Palin negative effect on Jewish voters is a well documented story. It keeps popping up whenever there’s need for a diagnostic analysis of the inherent incompatibility of Jewish voters and Republican politics. “As it turned out”, explained this Daily Kos report, “a key factor in John McCain’s failure to get American Jews to choose him was his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. In the run-up to the 2008 election, Newsweek reported that ‘Palin may hurt McCain among Jewish voters.’ The dynamics in Florida, later carried by Barack Obama, were particularly telling”.

Telling in what way? Here’s the way the Daily Beast chose to explain the story of the Jewish vote in 2008: “this year’s Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, has appeared to lag among Jews. The AJC poll showed only 57 percent of Jews nationwide supporting Obama, with 30 percent backing McCain and 13 percent undecided. “There’s no question that Obama came into this election with probably less going for him than most Democratic nominees,” says Wald. But the Palin pick “probably blunted any gains the Republicans had made.”

In short: Obama was in trouble, as documented by an AJC survey, then McCain picked Palin, and winds have shifted back to the left. Sounds reasonable? If you read the 2008 AJC survey of Jewish opinion you might be tempted to believe this line of argument. Only 57% of Jews said they’d vote for Obama in September, but something changed their minds until Election Day. Could it not be Palin, is she not the most likely instigator of such change?

I’m afraid to say the answer is no. With all due respect to all writers explaining that “John McCain may have helped Obama with his Jewish problem by choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate”, and to Jewish Democrats who “believe the nomination of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has driven many undecided Jews back into the arms of the Democrats” – the evidence isn’t exactly supportive of such a theory.

While I’m pretty sure there are Jewish voters, here and there, who decided to vote Obama because of the Palin nomination, most Jewish voters have jumped on the Obama bandwagon way before Palin was nominated. And to realize that, one has to abandon the AJC survey that was both late and is considered to be relatively conservative, and look at the numbers released by Gallup. The Palin surprise came in late August of 2008 – but Jewish voters were abandoning McCain two months before Palin became a player in the campaign. In July of 2008 McCain could still hope for 34% of Jewish support, in August of 2008 his numbers among Jews went down to 25%. That’s pretty much the percentage of Jews who eventually voted for him. Palin didn’t add anything and did not take anything away from the McCain campaign (To be honest: If Joe Lieberman would have been nominated as McCain’s VP candidate, it could have changed the numbers).