For the past generation, Republicans have been able to argue with justice that their party is more consistently pro-Israel than that of the Democrats. That wasn’t just the result of President Obama’s antagonism toward Jerusalem and George W. Bush’s friendship. Rather, it was an acknowledgement that a significant portion of the influential left wing of the Democrats was hostile to the Jewish state, while those few Republicans who were not friends of Zion had been marginalized. While Pat Buchanan had been more or less kicked out of the GOP in the 1990s, left-wingers like the ones who booed the adoption of a platform plank on Jerusalem at the Democratic National Convention this year were numerous and not without a voice in the party’s councils. But that may be about to change.
Republicans are congratulating themselves on breaking the 30 percent mark in their share of the Jewish vote this year, even though they could point to Barack Obama’s problematic relationship with Israel. As I pointed out on Wednesday, anyone who assumes the GOP will continue to gain ground among Jewish voters needs to remember that they won’t have that advantage four years from now. But the really bad news is that the coming battle for the soul of the Republican Party will make it clear that a significant portion of the GOP probably shouldn’t be characterized as part of the pro-Israel consensus. With the retirement of Rep. Ron Paul from electoral politics, the baton of the libertarian extremist/isolationist camp will pass to his son Rand, the senator from Kentucky. The younger Paul is more politically astute and probably a lot more marketable to a mainstream audience than his father was. But he is no less opposed to a mindset that sees a strong America and a strong alliance with Israel as integral to U.S. foreign policy than the older libertarian. That makes it entirely possible that under Rand’s leadership, radical libertarians will move from the fever swamps of the GOP to the mainstream. That’s bad news for the Republican Party, and could make their efforts to attract more pro-Israel and Jewish voters even more futile than they have been in the past.
The Republican Jewish Coalition released the exit polls they took yesterday and declared victory in the presidential contest. President Obama won re-election, but his share of the Jewish vote in the RJC poll was 68 percent–down from the 78 percent that he received in 2008. Mitt Romney received approximately 32 percent of Jewish ballots, a figure that is about 10 percent more than the paltry 22 percent won by John McCain. Democrats may dispute these figures, but they roughly conform to the results obtained in the national exit poll taken by CNN. Two questions arise out of a careful look at these numbers.
First, what was the primary cause of this rise in the GOP vote? Second, and perhaps even more important, is whether Republicans really ought to be celebrating this result as much as the RJC says they should. The obvious answer to the first question is President Obama’s fractious relationship with the state of Israel. The answer to the second is more complicated. Though Republicans are right to see these numbers as evidence of the incremental progress they’ve made since the party bottomed out among Jews in 1992, they should also be asking themselves if they will ever again have an opportunity to do as well as they did this year.
The overall tone of the foreign policy debate portrayed President Obama’s insecurity about the race as he swung away at Mitt Romney as if he was the challenger rather than the incumbent. But if there was any particular element of the electorate about which he seemed concerned, it has to be the Jewish vote. President Obama’s all-out effort to portray himself as Israel’s best friend and Iran’s most ardent foe showed just how desperate he is about the possibility that he will lose Jewish votes as a result of spending the first three years of his administration constantly picking fights with the state of Israel and attempting to establish daylight between its positions and those of the United States.
That the president would so emphasize Israel in the debate spoke volumes about Democrat fears about his vulnerability. Even more interestingly, he found himself staking out a position on Iran’s nuclear program that had to alarm those advocating a compromise on the issue as well as his European negotiating partners in the P5+1 process. The president didn’t endorse Israel’s calls for “red lines” about Iran’s nuclear capability as did Romney, but he did say that the only solution to the standoff involved a stand that would make the sort of compromise that realists and foreign policy establishment types approve impossible:
And we hope that their leadership takes the right decision, but the deal we’ll accept is they end their nuclear program. It’s very straightforward.
The deal that the compromisers want and which seems to be in the cards if the direct talks between the U.S. and Iran that the New York Times reported over the weekend would commence after the elections would involve an agreement that would leave the Iranian nuclear program in place but have their enriched fuel shipped abroad.
American Jews may take a more jaundiced view of the Iranian nuclear threat than the Obama administration, but that doesn’t seem to be affecting their opinions about the presidential race. The latest poll from the American Jewish Committee shows President Obama likely to take a smaller portion of the Jewish vote than he did in 2008 but avoiding the catastrophic decline that Republicans hoped his combative attitude toward Israel would produce. Obama leads Mitt Romney by a 65-24 percent margin among Jewish voters. That represents a marked decline from the 78 percent he got in 2008 (though Democrats now claim the number was only 74 percent). But Romney’s inability to get more than a quarter of the Jewish vote shows that resistance to the GOP among this largely liberal group is still intense.
That still shows a potential loss among Jewish voters for Obama that was larger than his expected decline from the totals he had in 2008 among the rest of the population. That can be reasonably interpreted as a backlash against the administration’s endless rounds of fights with Israel’s government, such as the latest one over Iran that gave the lie to the Democrats’ election-year Jewish charm offensive. But Romney’s failure to make more of this weakness on Obama’s part undermines any scenario by which lost Jewish votes for the Democrats could alter the outcome in swing states like Florida. While the poll shows some progress for the GOP this year, the data show that liberal ideology and partisan affinity for the Democrats still overwhelms any concerns about the Middle East for the majority of Jews.
As I’ve noted before, just about every poll taken in the last year shows that President Obama is likely to lose ground among Jewish voters when compared to his performance in 2008. That’s also the finding of a new American Jewish Committee poll of Jewish voters in Florida. But while, as JTA notes, both Republicans and Democrats have sought to spin the numbers as good news for their side, in this case President Obama’s supporters have the stronger case.
The poll shows that the president leads Mitt Romney by a 69-25 percentage-point margin with five percent undecided. That is less than the 74-78 percent of the Jewish vote Obama got in 2008. But it is far less of a decrease than other polls have shown. More to the point, if these results hold up, it is not enough of a shift to be considered large enough to help swing the state if Florida turns out to be close. For that to happen, the GOP needs to hold Obama closer to 60 percent than 70 and get Romney up over the 30 percent margin. The drop in Obama’s support is explained by the answers to poll questions that show the positions of the majority of Jewish voters on topics like Israel and Iran to be significantly different from those of the administration. But those issues don’t appear to be enough to convince enough Jewish Democrats and independents to forsake the president in favor of Romney.
There’s been a lot of debate about just how much Jewish support Barack Obama is going to lose this year. But other than some truth-challenged blind partisans like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, few have challenged the assertion that the president is likely to get fewer Jewish votes in November than he did in 2008. The only question his how much of a drop off can we expect?
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life gave us another clue today when it released a graphic showing a marked decline in Jews identifying as Democrats over the past four years. In 2008, 72 percent of Jews identified themselves as Democrats or as leaning toward the party while only 20 percent were linked to the GOP. In 2012, those numbers have gone to 66 percent for the Democrats and 28 percent for the Republicans. If the presidential vote reflected party affiliation, that would mean the president is certain to lose significant ground from 2008, when his share of the Jewish group has been estimated to be from 74-78 percent (Democrats claimed 78 percent four years ago but now say the number was smaller)–though not as big a drop as some surveys have seemed to indicate. Nevertheless, this is important since it is likely that many voters, especially Jews who have historic ties to the party, might be willing to vote against President Obama while still calling themselves Democrats. But no matter how you slice it, this seems to set Democrats up for their worst showing among Jews since 1988.
Earlier, John channeled the spirit of William Safire and gave us an imaginative and probably not inaccurate assessment of President Obama’s motivation for refusing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu later this month during the meetings of the United Nations General Assembly. Given Obama’s personal antipathy for Netanyahu and his ardent desire to avoid any meeting that would place him under some obligation to strengthen his stand on Iran, the snub is hardly surprising. The intent, as with a number of previous stunts by the president aimed at the Israeli, was to embarrass Netanyahu as well as to stiff him on the one issue his country cares about: Iran.
The decision is particularly problematic because the assumption in the Israeli press had been that Obama would use a planned September 26 meeting with Netanyahu to not only reaffirm his commitment to stopping Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. The consensus was that it would also be the occasion for the enunciation of some “red lines” that would state with some degree of certainty just how far the diplomatic process would be allowed to go before Iran would be called to account by the United States. Instead, Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have made it clear that there will be no red lines, meaning that a policy predicated on the idea that diplomacy and sanctions to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear goal will be allowed to go on, perhaps indefinitely. Netanyahu doesn’t need to read Contentions to understand that in doing so Obama has just shown that he doesn’t believe the Israeli’s threats to attack Iran. Just as important, the president is also signaling that the U.S. has no intention of ever resorting to force even though everyone in Washington already knows that diplomacy has no chance of success.
At the Jewish Journal, Shmuel Rosner takes me to task for “manipulating the facts” in a post I wrote yesterday about the Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll of the presidential race. What facts did I “manipulate”? Just this: I reported that the poll’s breakdown of voters by religion showed President Obama leading Mitt Romney by a 59-35 percent margin with 6 percent undecided. But Rosner doesn’t say I falsified the numbers. His criticism is that I didn’t ignore them.
According to Rosner, the sample size of the poll is too small for any statistics about the admittedly tiny percentage of the voting public that is Jewish to be meaningful. That’s a fair point and I should have noted that the sample here, as in just about any poll that is not focused only on Jews, is pretty small and might not be accurate. But it is significant that even this small sample seems to reflect the same trend that other larger and perhaps (or perhaps not) more reliable polls have consistently shown for the last year: Barack Obama is going to get far fewer Jewish votes than he got in 2008. To deny that, as some of the president’s Jewish cheering section has been urging us to do, is absurd.
President Obama may be enjoying a slight, if likely temporary, bounce in the polls this week. But one of the surveys showing him with a lead in a tight race over Mitt Romney also provides a breakdown of the data that confirms predictions that he is losing up to a quarter of the Jewish votes he got in 2008. The Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor/TIPP Poll gives a breakdown of religion along with other demographic groups and shows Obama leading among Jews by a margin of 59 to 35 percent with six percent undecided. While that is still a majority it is a dramatic decline from the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he got four years ago.
Obama has a 46-44 percent lead over Romney in the TIPP poll. That means Obama is suffering from a decline in support throughout the electorate from his 2008 victory when he won 53 percent of the vote. But the president’s loss of approximately 25 percent of Jewish voters this year is not matched by a similar decline in any other demographic group. Indeed even in the unlikely event that Obama was to win almost all of the undecided voters in the survey, that would barely match Michael Dukakis’ 64 percent of Jewish votes in 1988. Far more likely is a result that would leave the president with the lowest total of Jewish votes since 1980 when Jimmy Carter received 45 percent in a three-way race with Ronald Reagan and John Anderson. While some losses in Jewish support could be put down to disillusionment with his economic policies that is shared across the board, the only conceivable explanation for this far greater than average loss of Jewish votes is the administration’s difficult relationship with Israel.
Last week Democrats were running riot on the talk shows, gabbing about what they claimed was an extremist Republican platform on social issues like abortion. As I noted at the time, platforms were always meaningless and are as outdated as the political conventions that adopt them. Yet GOP stalwarts were reduced to ineffectual defenses that did little to undo the damage that the symbolic adoption of planks that provided no exceptions to abortion bans did among moderate and independent voters.
This week, the shoe is on the other foot. As soon as the Democratic platform was published, we learned they had banned all mention of God from their manifesto and watered down or eliminated pro-Israel language that had previously been present in past platforms. Their replies to questions about this have been as defensive and poorly received as those given by their GOP counterparts. These twin controversies provide an interesting window into the mindset of both parties. The Republican platform shows that the party is not interested in challenging the views of social conservatives while Democrats are not inclined to treat the sensibilities of the pro-Israel community as being worth worrying about. Even though platform language doesn’t dictate policy (as pro-life advocates know since no Republican president has ever carried out their party’s promises about abortion), what does that tell you about the current state of American politics?
What timing. Not 24 hours after the Democratic National Committee issued a platform backtracking from its pro-Israel positions in 2008, billionaire entertainment mogul and formerly disgruntled Obama donor Haim Saban took up arms for the administration’s Israel record in the New York Times:
In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in annual military assistance to Israel that the president requests and that Congress routinely approves, assistance for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed deep personal appreciation. …
In contrast, through painstaking diplomacy, Mr. Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Obama secured European support for what even Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.” …
Finally, Mr. Obama has been steadfast against efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums. He has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies. As a sign of its support, the Obama administration even vetoed a Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, a resolution that mirrored the president’s position and that of every American administration since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Apparently that’s all it takes to convince Saban that the president is pro-Israel: providing military assistance, sanctioning Iran, and blocking Palestinian attempts to delegitimize Israel at the UN. That isn’t nothing, but it’s certainly the bare minimum. What would Obama’s other options have been? Cut off military aid? Veto Iranian sanctions legislation passed by congress? Forgo his power to block a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN?
As Alana wrote last night, the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein has now produced an audiotape of a talk given by Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz that resolves the mystery surrounding her recent comments about Israel. There is now no doubt that, despite her denial on national television last night, Wasserman Schultz told a group of Jewish Democrats that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said, “that what the Republicans are doing is bad for Israel.” Oren says he never said such a thing and that denial is credible since, as he pointed out, Israel has good friends on both sides of the political aisle. That leaves us not only with the question of why Wasserman Schultz felt constrained to lie about it but why she ever made such a claim in the first place.
Wasserman Schultz lied about making the claim that Oren backed her ideas about the GOP because she probably didn’t know there was a tape of her talk and figured she could simply deny the truth. Perhaps she also thought Oren would not wish to contradict her publicly. She didn’t count on the fact that the ambassador is an honorable man and that it is not in his country’s interest to allow the Democrats to falsely portray him as taking sides in a partisan dispute. That DWS has been publicly outed as a brazen liar is a disgrace to her party, the Congress and the Jewish community she pretends to lead. But it is not terribly surprising given the vicious partisanship she has come to exemplify. Yet of far greater interest is the argument this lie was used to buttress: the claim that Republican criticism of President Obama’s attitude and policies toward Israel is hurting the Jewish state.
DWS and other Democrats have sought to brand the GOP as dragging what ought to be a bipartisan concern into the mud of election year politics. This is an absurd and hypocritical charge that says more about their contempt for democracy that it does about their love for Israel.
One day after Mitt Romney announced his choice for vice president, the consensus among Democrats is all they have to do to win in November is to mention one word: Medicare. They are convinced Paul Ryan’s budget and his belief that entitlements must be reformed if they are to be preserved is easily demagogued. Mediscare tactics are at the heart of their belief that a critical mass of voters can be stampeded toward Obama and the Democrats by claiming Paul Ryan is the boogeyman who is going to push grandma over the cliff. There is good reason to believe that once Americans get a good look at Ryan and start listening to his ideas they’ll be convinced this liberal caricature is just the usual mainstream media sliming of conservatives, but if there is any group on which such fears might work, it is among American Jews. That will make the battle for the Jewish vote in Florida a key test of Democrat plans.
Though many in the Obama camp have been trying to pretend there is no problem for them among this staunchly partisan Democratic demographic, there’s little doubt that uneasiness about the president’s attitude toward Israel is going to cost him a lot of Jewish votes this November. The administration’s election year Jewish charm offensive confirmed the White House understands that three years of constant fights with Israel will have electoral consequences. But today, liberals are predicting Florida will be where they will best be able to stampede elderly Jews away from the Republicans, worries over Israel notwithstanding. That’s the conceit of the Forward’s first shot on the topic that claimed Ryan would be a “Four-Letter Word” among Jews. But liberal assumptions on this point may turn out to be more wishful thinking than anything else.
Conservative pro-Israel groups are preparing for a massive assault on President Obama’s Israel record that will dwarf any similar efforts from four years ago. But this time around, Obama won’t have support from his top Israel surrogate, Dennis Ross, a trusted face in the Democratic pro-Israel community who stumped at synagogues and helped calm Jewish voters in 2008. Eli Lake reports:
“I am the counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,” [Dennis] Ross said in an email on Friday. “The Washington Institute is a non-profit organization and I cannot do political work from here. When I acted for the campaign in 2008, I had to take a leave of absence to do so. Having only recently returned to the Institute, I cannot now again take a leave of absence.” …
Ross himself said, “I can give substantive advice to the administration, the president’s campaign, or any campaign that would ask for it. And, of course, when I speak I can talk about my views on policy and I have been supportive of the president’s policy on leading foreign policy issues.”
The party line from Democrats this year has been to deny that President Obama is in any trouble of losing Jewish support to Mitt Romney in November. But the announcement that a group of Jewish liberals are seeking to form a group to counter the Republican Jewish Coalition’s campaign against Obama is proof the president is in trouble.
But these Jewish liberal donors who wish to offset the efforts of Romney donors such as Sheldon Adelson are making a mistake if they think all that is needed is to throw some money at the Jewish market. If the RJC’s “buyer’s remorse” ad campaign has traction it is because Jewish voters know that President Obama is, as veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller wrote yesterday, “not in love with the idea of Israel.” This is not, as one Democrat told Politico, a case of Obama being “swift-boated.” The GOP isn’t making up novel criticisms of the president so much as it is simply highlighting what everyone already knows
Could the Jewish vote go Republican this year? The answer, as always, is no, of course not. But President Obama has lost enough ground with Jewish voters to create some problems for himself in Florida, as Democratic pollster Doug Schoen explained on Newsmax TV:
One of Obama’s biggest hurdles: capturing Florida’s Jewish voters. The president, polls show, has about 60-65 percent of the Jewish vote, but, says Schoen, if Obama does not win “a full 75 percent…it could, in fact, be decisive.”
The state is “effectively deadlocked,” said Schoen, the author of Hopelessly Divided: The New Crisis in American Politics and What It Means for 2012 and Beyond.
“Jews are necessarily torn, because they see the president as somebody who, aspirationally, has committed himself to Israel,” he said. “At the same time, there have been concerns about the settlement policy and also about the nature of his commitment to do whatever it takes in Iran.”
Ever since the confrontation between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in May of 2011 about the president’s attempt to dictate that the 1967 lines would be the starting point for future Middle East peace negotiations, speculation about the impact of this on the president’s re-election has been intense. Since then, numerous polls have shown it is highly unlikely that Obama would get anywhere close to the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he received in 2008. Republicans are eager to take advantage of this factor in November, much as they did last year when a special election in New York’s 8th congressional district went to the GOP over this issue. But leave it to the New York Times to focus an article on this almost completely on billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson is the centerpiece of an article on the front page of today’s Times about an ad campaign undertaken by the Republican Jewish Coalition highlighting the “buyer’s remorse” felt by many Jews who voted for the president four years ago but will not support him again because of his stands on Israel and the state of the economy. That the RJC would be running such ads in battleground states is hardly surprising, especially because the question of the Jewish vote being a possibly decisive factor in the outcome this year has been a matter of discussion for months. Not only did I write about this in the March issue of COMMENTARY, but just yesterday, Reuters also devoted a feature to the way Jewish voters could make the difference in Florida. But for the Times, it’s all about Adelson, who, despite being mentioned in the headline (“Mogul’s Latest Foray Courts Jews for the G.O.P.”) and the caption to a photo showing the ads, is just one of several RJC supporters who helped underwrite their production and distribution. Though liberal Jews quoted in the article are in denial about the president’s problems, and the paper would like to make it appear this is merely the function of a plutocrat’s whim, the reason why the ads are resonating is that a significant percentage of Jewish voters have been disillusioned by the president’s attitude toward Israel.
Back in May, I wrote about the controversy that ensued when a Miami synagogue invited Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to speak at a Friday evening Sabbath service. When members protested about the hijacking of a religious observance for partisan purposes, Miami’s Temple Israel disinvited her, leading to some spurious charges that local Republicans had “bullied” the shul. As Bryan Schwartzman of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent reports, DWS is back in the news this week for another synagogue appearance, this time at Reform Congregation Knesseth Israel (KI) in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, and again, Republicans are complaining.
While this event is far more defensible than the Miami appearance, it still raises some important questions about the way religious institutions get dragged into partisan politics. With polls showing President Obama losing popularity among Jewish voters, Democrats are going all out to try to prevent a precipitous drop in support in this otherwise solidly liberal community. Which means synagogues are on the front lines of a nasty partisan argument that they would do well to avoid.
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch likes nothing better than being the center of attention, and he certainly achieved that last year when his highly publicized role in a special congressional election led to a Republican victory in New York’s 9th congressional district. Koch endorsed Republican Bob Turner, helping him to win the seat that was vacated after Anthony Weiner was forced to resign from Congress in disgrace. The former mayor sought to turn the race into a referendum on the Obama administration’s attacks on Israel. This was a factor in Turner’s defeat of David Weprin, an Orthodox Jew who professed to be as unhappy about the president’s hostility to the Jewish state as the GOP. Though Weprin’s support for gay marriage may have hurt him as much as being associated with President Obama, there’s no denying Koch played a key role in deciding the outcome in what may have been the most heavily Jewish district in the country (gerrymandering has caused the 9th to be divided up this year).
But ever since that triumph, the administration has been paying court to Koch, and he has characteristically responded to their flattery by switching sides on the issue. Since September, he has been one of the loudest advocates of the president’s re-election and recently claimed that it was he, Ed Koch, who caused the administration to change its policies toward Israel. But Koch is giving himself a bit too much credit. The charm offensive aimed at convincing Jewish voters the president is Israel’s best friend to ever sit in the White House actually preceded the NY-9 special election. If it has intensified since last September, more credit must be given to the calendar than to Koch. But ego aside, if the former mayor really thinks the president has “changed” for good when it comes to picking fights for Israel, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn he might be interested in buying.
Josh Nathan-Kazis of the Forward brings to our attention a Siena College poll of New York voters that adds a little more fuel to the fire about whether President Obama is losing ground among Jewish voters. The poll, which provides a breakdown by religion, shows the president is only leading Republican Mitt Romney by a 51-43 percent margin among New York Jews. Considering that Obama has a lopsided 59-35 percent edge among all voters, the poll seems to confirm the much discussed results of the new demographic survey of Jewish life in Greater New York which shows the traditional stereotype of Jews as secular liberals is heading for the dustbin of history.
This does illustrate how solidly blue New York is, as the decline in support for Obama in a group that has traditionally been among the most loyal to the Democrats is having no effect on the president’s chances of winning the state. But it does tell us that, despite the Democrats’ claim the GOP is blowing smoke about making gains in the Jewish vote this year, Obama is in serious trouble among Jews. The question the president’s supporters have to be asking themselves after reading this poll is how different New York Jews are from those in the rest of the country, especially swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where the Jewish vote could be crucial in a tight election.