The big political news this morning is that Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the third-time’s-the-charm Republican presidential candidate, has taken the lead in the latest PPP poll in Iowa, which hosts the first-in-the-nation caucuses on Jan. 3, 2012. Paul’s strength in the Hawkeye State has long been known (he scored 10 percent in 2008), as has the fact that he’s been gaining ground since Mitt Romney simply seems not to be catching on there and since the former front-runner, Newt Gingrich, who may formerly have resembled a blimp, now increasingly looks like the Hindenberg: His popularity began to plummet not long after he took the lead and everyone had to actually pay attention to him. Paul is in first with 23 percent; in second (and, given the 4 percent margin of error, in a “statistical dead-heat” with Paul) is Romney with 20 percent; and in third is Gingrich at 14 percent (he was at 27 two weeks ago). Our favorite elections-predictor, Nate Silver, has Paul winning the caucuses by three points over Romney. Congratulations, Dr. Paul, but is this good or bad for the Jews?
It’s hard not to answer “bad.” It’s not just that Paul, alone among the prominent GOP candidates, supports lowering foreign aid including to Israel, lessening the United States’ “entangling alliances,” and generally hoping for less U.S. power projection in the world—all the stuff AIPAC’s nightmares are made of. Reasonable Jews, after all, can differ on the subject of AIPAC’s nightmares. It’s that Paul kinda has a Jewish problem. About two decades ago, newsletters that were published under his aegis and ghost-written by a close adviser routinely engaged in a sort of neo-Southern Strategy—an attempt to unite “paleoconservatives” with coded (and sometimes uncoded) messages laced with fear and contempt for the Other, whether blacks, gays, or Jews. Moreover, Paul has yet to reckon with this or even, really, acknowledge it. This isn’t just a pedantic point: One newsletter headlined an article about the Adams Morgan neighborhood “Animals Take Over the D.C. Zoo”; another questioned whether the Mossad was responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. (Much of this reporting comes from frequent Tablet Magazine contributor James Kirchick.)
The second reason it’s bad for the Jews is that the institutional Republican Jewish community has shunned Paul, and when you get elected (or nominated), you tend to reward and look favorably upon the positions of the people who got you there and do the opposite to the people who tried to prevent you from getting there. The Republican Jewish Coalition does not endorse primary candidates, but when you invite six of the seven top candidates to your forum and refuse to invite the seventh, and then explain that this is due to the seventh’s “misguided and extreme views,” well, your message has probably been conveyed. A Paul nominee and, theoretically, President Paul is almost certainly going to be less receptive to the desires of the Jewish community than the alternatives. I am not sure this means the RJC was wrong not to invite Paul, but I certainly hope the possibility that he would become the nominee at least factored into its decision.
Paul is still considered a significant long shot. His views can be pretty kooky (although, as when he calls for ending the War on Drugs, sometimes they are kooky in a very welcome way), he’s not polished, he’s 76 (several years older than John McCain was in ’08), and he has never had the sun-bright glare of national media attention focused directly on him. But it was a similarly crowded field that, say, Sen. John Kerry emerged out of in 2004 when he won the Iowa caucuses and proceeded to wrap up the nomination in short order. Paul’s becoming the GOP standard-bearer was never outside the realm of possibility, and it is right now, perhaps, more likely than ever. Which means we need to start talking about what Jewish Republicans will do if he is the nominee. Which means we need to start talking about the potential for a third-party run, perhaps involving someone Jewish Republicans would find more palatable. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.