“GOP’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift, ”the New York Times announced in a headline over the weekend. It’s the kind of statement that Wall Street Journal blogger James Taranto might greet with his famous jibe, “Fox Butterfield, is that you?” Taranto uses this phrase when a headline mixes up cause and effect the way Butterfield famously did in a Times dispatch titled “More inmates, despite drop in crime.”
It is a deeply cynical view that attributes America’s shifting political winds in respect of Israel to the financial contributions of a few big donors. It is plain to me that it’s not a shift in political contributions that is deepening the Republicans’ support for Israel. Rather, it is the emergence of the Republican Party as Israel's more ardent supporter that is inspiring any shift in political contributions.
Nor would it be prudent to make too much of any such shift. The landscape, after all, is littered with fat cats who spent fortunes to win political office and failed— eBay founder Meg Whitman, a billionaire, spent a record $119 million on her campaign for governor of California, only to get schmeised; Linda McMahon, a wrestling kingpin, spent nearly $100 million on her two campaigns for Senate in Connecticut, only to get knocked out. There are scores of other examples.
The more substantive story is the prospect that America’s polity will finally react to the Democratic Party’s drift from the cause of Zion. This trend started in the Nixon years, decades before the Citizens United Supreme Court case loosened restrictions on big campaign financiers. Waning Democratic support for Israel was not unrelated to the party’s faltering in the Cold War, after the years of Truman, JFK, and LBJ gave way in 1972 to Democratic Party presidential nominee George McGovern and the New Left.
This was reflected in some, but not all, of the election results in the years after World War II. Among Republican presidents, Eisenhower won the largest percentage of the Jewish vote (40% and 36% against Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956, respectively), with Reagan coming in second (39% of Jewish voters voted for him in his race against Walter Mondale in 1984) and Nixon and George H.W. Bush tying for third (35% of Jews voted for Nixon in his race against McGovern in 1972, and for Bush in his race against Michael Dukakis in 1988).
It’s been tough sledding for the Republicans since then, though U.S. President Barack Obama captured far fewer Jewish votes when running for his second term, compared to his first term: Republican candidate Mitt Romney captured 30% of the Jewish vote in 2012, versus the 22% Republican candidate John McCain won in 2008. There are many good reasons for the Jewish community’s liberal streak, but what Norman Podhoretz calls “the Torah of liberalism” looks less logical with each passing year.
Some of this is demographic, as the Orthodox community grows faster than the more liberal, secular Jewish population. Some is substantive, which is the danger the Democrats face in the presidential election next year. The majority of Jews are still liberal. But what they expected when President Obama vowed he’d have Israel’s back was not the kind of scorn he’s been showing for Israel and the kind of warmth he has been exuding for the Iranian mullahs.
The Democratic Party might advance a nominee who can reverse this trend. That party has a gloriously pro-Israel faction (though one of its most powerful leaders, Robert Menendez, has just been indicted for corruption by Obama’s justice department). Hillary Clinton is well-regarded among Jews, but has failed to speak up for Israel in a sustained way during the current crisis.
Israel, of course, will not be the only issue — or even the leading issue—in the upcoming campaign. But to the degree that it is an issue, it is hard to imagine a better lineup than the figures emerging at the fore of the GOP: Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and even Rand Paul, a libertarian who comprehends that if liberty is the issue, Israel has more of it than any other Middle Eastern nation.
It’s also true of current or former Republican governors such as Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal. There’s not a disciple of Pat Buchanan among them, as the Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn pointed out in a column about what he calls the “great political reversal on Israel.” It’s too soon to say how the GOP will fare at the polls, but it’s not too soon to dismiss the suggestion that its emergence on Israel is all about Jewish money buying the GOP.