Earlier today, I discussed the fact most Jewish voters will stick with Barack Obama. In my second post on the subject, I explained this still left a significant group of Jewish swing votes that are up for grabs because of discontent with the president. The potential exists for a Jewish GOP vote that may move over the 30 percent threshold or even approach Ronald Reagan’s record 40 percent.
But that is only if the Republicans nominate someone pro-Israel liberals can live with.
With the exception of libertarian Ron Paul, all the possible Republican candidates could effectively present themselves as better for Israel than Obama. That leaves us with the question of which of them are best placed to gobble up that 10 to 20 percent of the Jewish vote Obama has thrown away with his recklessly confrontational attitude toward Israel.
The dream candidate of Jewish Republicans remains Rudy Giuliani. He combines foreign policy hawkishness with moderate stands on social issues. But as the 2008 primaries proved, that is not a combination that sells with GOP voters. Even if the former mayor tries again this year, a Giuliani-Obama matchup is pure science fiction.
On the other end of the spectrum, the dream Republican for Democrats would be Sarah Palin. The hostility Palin generates among Jewish liberals is such that in the unlikely event she runs, and the even more unlikely possibility of her winning the GOP nomination, Palin’s Jewish vote might even sink below the elder George Bush’s 11 percent in 1992. That really says something, since even many Jewish Republicans wouldn’t vote for Bush because of his hostility to Israel.
Though she must still be considered an underdog, unlike Palin, Michele Bachmann is someone who might actually win the Republican nomination. As a relative newcomer to the national scene, the media has not yet demonized Bachmann. It is possible her more substantial resume and more dignified approach to critics will make her less of a piñata for Jewish liberals than Palin. But the prospect of running against a hard line Tea Party conservative who is also a fervent pro-life evangelical is exactly what Jewish Democrats want. Despite her passionate support for Israel, the same qualities that endear her to conservatives would sink her with liberals who are looking for a Republican to vote for.
Supporters of Texas Governor Rick Perry might think he gives Republicans a better chance at more Jewish votes than other conservatives, but in his case, cultural factors may predominate. His cowboy boots might scare off urban liberals even if they are disgusted with Obama’s bullying of Israel.
That leaves us with two more realistic prospects for Republican chances to gain Jewish votes: Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.
Frontrunner Mitt Romney might be able to take advantage of discontent with Obama, since he is perceived as a moderate within the GOP if only by comparison with his competition. Perhaps there are those who will argue Romney’s Mormon faith will be a problem for some liberal Jews, but I doubt it. Though Democrats would attempt to portray Romney as a flip-flopper who pandered to the far right, the former Massachusetts governor has gotten independent votes in the past and will probably be able to do so again.
Tim Pawlenty’s conservative and pro-life credentials are as strong as any in the party, but he might be able to appeal to swing voters simply because his placid demeanor makes him seem less threatening to skittish pro-Israel liberals. Of all the GOP candidates, he is the one who is most interested in staking out a position as a foreign policy candidate. If any conservative can sell himself to Jewish voters, he might be the one who could do it best.
Despite the dismal record of the Obama administration on Israel, Republicans are by no means certain to reap a larger share of the Jewish vote. Social issues and the economy will influence Jewish votes as much if not more than Israel will. And it will take nominating a candidate who won’t be pigeonholed as an extremist to convince Jews to back a Republican. But if they do, Barack Obama’s share of the Jewish vote will drop precipitously in 2012.