Time for a corrective. I’ve argued and argued that Israel could factor into the presidential election as the Republicans’ symbol—a metonym, really—for President Obama’s general alleged weakness and un-American values. But there is a rebuttal! It goes like this: first, Jewish support for Obama is down because American support for Obama is down, and not for any other reason. And, second: next year, national security generally just won’t factor in. I’ve been in touch with two prominent political scientists in the past weeks, and both have insisted on the latter point.
Charlie Cook, author of the legendary Cook Political Report, had this to say about my clever little theory: “When you’ve got nine percent unemployment, no foreign policy issue is gonna beat unemployment.” He added, “In the absence of some enormous international development, there’s not a chance in the world that non-Jews are going to be voting on anything related to Jews, including Israel. Foreign policy is a non-issue right now—and that’s with Afghanistan and Iraq out there!” He concluded, “There’s a reason why the candidates aren’t really talking about foreign policy.” Well, they are starting to talk about Israel! But he nonetheless has a point.
(As for the Jewish vote, argued: “You have a group that 78 percent voted for Obama, 74 for John Kerry—the fluctuation isn’t that darn much. I’m sure Obama won’t get 78 percent but no other issue is of that importance. I seriously doubt if any serious student of political elections are going to be saying the day after the election that the Jewish vote made a huge difference.”)
And Kyle Kondik, who works with the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato, offered these insights in an email:
For the first time in a long time, Republicans probably don’t have the dominant position over Democrats in a debate over national security. President Obama can point to the death of Osama bin Laden and relative quiet in Iraq and Afghanistan as positives on foreign policy. Even Libya might turn out OK, to the extent that people are paying attention. But that’s the big problem for Obama—the electorate is focused on the economy. Foreign policy, barring some unexpected development, just doesn’t seem like it will be a big issue in this election.
Now, I fully suspect that Republicans will attack Obama over Israel; there’s some evidence that the Republican candidate in the upcoming NY-9 special House election [Kondik was writing about two weeks ago] has gotten some traction against his Democratic opponent over Obama’s stance on Israel. That may end up being very important in a district where a third of the voters are likely to be Orthodox Jews. But in a larger sense, I’m not sure that Israel—or foreign policy at all—will be a big deal next year. And, if it is, it’s not entirely clear that the Republicans will be able to score any major political points on the president, whether the criticisms of Obama focus on Israel (as they surely will) or on other national security topics.
So Republicans will focus on Israel! But it just won’t work. We shall see. Maybe.