Commentary Magazine


Perry is Obama’s Ace in the Hole for the Jewish Vote

Hot on the heels of the Democratic loss of the congressional seat in New York’s heavily Jewish 9th district, comes a new poll from Gallup showing President Obama’s approval rating heading south among American Jews. The poll shows 40 percent of Jews disapprove of Obama’s performance. That’s an eight percent increase since the last such survey taken in June. While that still leaves him with a 55 percent approval rating (down five points in the last four months), considering that historically, Jews are second only to African-Americans in loyalty to the Democrats, this is an earth-shaking result that may well portend disaster for both Obama and his party next year.

Leftist scribblers such as Eric Alterman are still trying to dismiss the NY-9 result as well as claiming that Jews are, despite all the evidence, quite happy with President Obama’s generally hostile attitude toward Israel. He’s kidding himself about that because, although Obama hasn’t destroyed the alliance altogether, most Americans  — Jews and non-Jews alike — agree with most Israelis who consider the president to be the most unfriendly American leader to their country in a generation. Combined with the general dissatisfaction with the economy and Obama’s weak governing style, the stage is set for a historic repudiation of the Democrat by one of the party’s strongest constituencies. But though Alterman’s daffy optimism about the Jewish vote may be unfounded, it does have one solid leg to stand on: Rick Perry.

Liberals are right that Jews are not one-issue voters on Israel. But all but the most hard-core partisan Democrats and left-wingers would think twice before voting for a presidential candidate they believed to be unfriendly to the Jewish state. Republicans have searched for decades to find a candidate who could match Ronald Reagan in terms of his pro-Israel appeal, but what they needed was a Democratic opponent who could be portrayed as a new Jimmy Carter. They may have one in Barack Obama, whose determination to pick fights with Israel throughout his first three years in office is starting to lose votes and campaign contributions for the Democrats. All things being equal, Obama is setting himself up to do as poorly as Carter among Jewish voters. That doesn’t mean he won’t win something close to a majority, but if the GOP candidate can equal Reagan’s record 40 percent, that will not only be a historic rejection of the Democrats but could also make the difference in Florida or Pennsylvania.

But there is a catch to this dream scenario for the GOP. It is the fact most American Jews fear evangelicals more than Hamas or Hezbollah. The one thing that could send the vast majority of Jews fleeing back to the Democrats, Israel notwithstanding, is the presence of a fire-breathing conservative Christian at the top of the GOP ticket. It is the canard the GOP is out to destroy the separation of church and state that keeps most Jews loyal to the Democrats. If the Republicans nominate someone who will come across as challenging the rights of religious minorities, that would trump Obama’s problems with Israel.

That’s the dilemma Rick Perry poses for those anticipating a love affair between the Republicans and the Jews. If Democrats can paint Perry as a threat to religious liberty, you can forget about a 40 percent or even a 30 percent Jewish vote for the GOP.

That doesn’t mean if Perry is the nominee he won’t have a chance to convince them he is no threat as well as remind them of his own hard line support for Israel. So, too, can Barack Obama hope to win back Jewish support during his fourth year in office. More actions like his recent help for Israel during the attack on its embassy in Cairo as well as steadfast backing at the United Nations and a more resolute policy toward Iran might convince wavering Democrats to come home.

But Obama’s main hope for retaining the Jewish vote is not based on spin or even a more pro-Israel demeanor in the coming months. A strong Democratic majority in 2012 rests firmly on the Jewish phobia for evangelicals.