Rand Paul speaks earlier this month as his father looks on.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

J.J. Goldberg’s Forward column warns that the combination in the Republican Party of an unenthusiastically backed pro-Israel frontrunner, Mitt Romney, and an enthusiastically backed anti-Israel runner-up, Rep. Ron Paul, could lead to a situation in which candidate and perhaps President Romney may not be as pro-Israel as his lip service suggests: “[W]e don’t really know what Romney believes,” Goldberg writes, “and he may have no intention of telling us until he’s inaugurated.” Goldberg raises the specter of President George H.W. Bush’s anti-Israel chief-of-staff, John Sununu, who provided a crucial Romney endorsement in his home state of New Hampshire, having influence. I’ve heard similar fears situating Romney in the camp of James Baker, Bush the Elder’s chief adviser and confidante, who also had no love for Israel. (Critics like to call President Obama the least pro-Israel president since Eisenhower or perhaps Carter, but even if you want to cede that he hasn’t been as good as Bush 43 or Clinton, you can’t honestly suggest that he is less pro-Israel than Bush 41.)

I’m not buying. Romney has flip-flopped on a lot, but not on Israel. He is backed by the Republican establishment, which is strongly and hawkishly pro-Israel. And his foreign policy advisers read like a who’s-who of neoconservative (and frequently Jewish, for that matter) thinkers: Dan Senor, Robert Kagan, Eliot Cohen, Dov Zakheim. Give Romney credit: He is one of the few Republican candidates who hasn’t, say, vowed to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, as previous presidents have done while campaigning and as no previous presidents have actually followed through on. That to me is evidence that Romney will do exactly as he says he will do when it comes to the Middle East.

But Paul. He’s not going to be the nominee, much less president. But I fear that Republicans have done an inadequate job of fully rebutting what might be termed Paul-ism. This is in part because they remain divided over who should be the nominee despite Romney’s plodding inevitability: Witness the Adelson-Gingrich phenomenon; witness the Emergency Committee for Israel’s ad, set for South Carolina, targeting Ron Paul for not being a Reagan Republican, which the group had to yank off the air after the star of the ad, ECI co-founder Gary Bauer, endorsed Rick Santorum. But it’s also because there is a genuine constituency for Paul and Paul-ism in the Republican Party, the “progressives for Paul” meme notwithstanding: There are some progressives who support Paul (Katha Pollitt has a superb column explaining why they shouldn’t), but the largest coherent voting bloc that would be amenable to a Paul-like candidate is the Tea Party. And we know this because the Tea Party’s favorite politician is … Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky and son of (and crucial supporter of) Ron Paul.

Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray has a must-read on “The Next Paul.” He is a much more skilled politician than his father—or, rather, he is much more of a politician than his father, somebody who cares about winning and accumulating power rather than just discussing issues and giving voice to a movement. He absolutely will consider being president at some point. In fact, according to Gray, Ron Paul will likely not be given much of a voice at the convention or on the standard-bearer’s ticket or, if it comes to it, in the Republican president’s administration precisely in exchange for future party backing for, or at least tolerance of, his son.

Rand Paul isn’t Ron Paul. He is less likely to emphasize or even agree with his father’s more outside-the-mainstream views. He doesn’t have a history of publishing racist newsletters or associating with icky paleoconservative-types. He is sort of like the Marine Le Pen to Ron Paul’s Jean-Marie.

Rand Paul also advocates a generally isolationist foreign policy and ending aid to Israel—like his father, and like a significant bloc of Republican voters. So, the Republican establishment’s refusal to fully deal with Paul, and instead to blame Paul on “progressives,” isn’t just some trivial matter, because the opponent isn’t just Paul, it’s Paul-ism.

ECI Pulls Gary Bauer Ad for South Carolina [JTA]
Ron Paul’s Strange Bedfellows [The Nation]
The Next Paul [Buzzfeed]
Earlier: ECI Goes After First Republican Target, Ron Paul
Tea Party Senator Endorses End of Israeli Aid