Tomorrow, the Republican Jewish Coalition will host the leading GOP presidential candidates—Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich,
Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman—at a forum in Washington, D.C. Notably absent will be Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas who polls in fourth place nationally and second place in the early caucus state of Iowa. The exclusion of Paul, who pushes an isolationist foreign policy that would distance the United States from Israel, has caused some controversy, but not much (“He’s just so far outside of the mainstream of the Republican Party and this organization … [it would be like] inviting Barack Obama to speak,” quipped RJC head Matthew Brooks).
What has gone less noticed is the non-invite to Fred Karger, the admittedly fringe (popularity-wise, not ideology-wise) candidate who is himself a Republican Jew. As columnist Michelle Goldberg reported a few months ago, Karger, a longtime GOP hand who came out of the closet several years ago, is running primarily to expose and embarrass Romney, the frontrunner, for his strong support of and adherence to the severely antigay Mormon Church. But not incidentally, he is also, he says, the first Republican Jewish candidate. “We established prior to the extending of invitations a set of criteria that needed to be met,” Brooks told me, “including having a threshold amount of money raised, threshold polling in multiple national surveys, and a national campaign organization.” Karger didn’t meet those requirements, he added.
But Karger feels he should be there—and, intriguingly, believes that his being left out was less the RJC’s doing and more one specific candidate’s. I spoke with him a few days ago. A lightly edited transcript follows.
Have you heard anything from the RJC?
I’m extremely disappointed that I was not invited. I did kind of seek my inclusion in this. I called Matt Brooks, talked to him on the phone about two and a half months ago. I’m a member of the leadership of the RJC, the $1,000 level, their least expensive big level.
I called Matt to see about being invited to speak, first at the leadership conference where Jon Boehner and Scott Brown were speaking. And I pushed hard to be in the forum, The thing is, and I’ve become an expert in Federal Election Commission forum and debate law: When they announce, as they did, that they’re having a presidential candidates forum, then they have to invite all the candidates that meet a certain criteria, and that criteria quite often is one percent in five national polls. They can’t disallow someone who meets that criteria.
So Ron Paul should be invited too?
It’s a serious violation for both of us. And he polls very well.
Well, Paul was excluded, they said, because of his positions on the Mideast. Where do you stand there?
I am as pro-Israel as you will find. I went on an RJC mission in 2005. Spent five days there in May. They certainly don’t question that. I met with Matt back in February 2010, and he couldn’t have been more cordial. My guess is there’s some resistance from one of the other candidates—it’s not so much the RJC—and they’ve got clout. Frontrunners can do that.
Not that you’re naming names …
I have one particular one who would not want me on the same forum as him. And I would not use this forum to bash fellow Republicans.
What would you want to do?
I want to talk about the significance of what I’m doing, which is being the first Jewish Republican to run for president.* When I met Eric Cantor, he was not thrilled. I think it sends a powerful message that someone, like me, who is steeped in politics, can run.
* Ed. Arlen Specter ran in 1995 but didn’t contest any primaries.
It’s insulting that I’m left out. I’ve been included in so many things. To be left out by the RJC is a big slap in the face.
My great-grandfather founded the Jewish Federation of Chicago, was its first president. And my grandfather was its youngest president. My family heritage goes back a very long time in Jewish activism, when they faced housing discrimination, hate crimes. I grew up with that.
So how do you feel things are going campaign-wise?]
They’re going exceedingly well for where I began 21 months ago. It’s my first time running for political office. Very restricted budget. I’ve been treated well, averaging one percent national and in New Hampshire. I was tied with Gingrich before his recent surge. I’m tied with Santorum and Bachmann in New Hampshire. My whole strategy has been to get into a debate, but also, there’s the Cain factor—an outsider, little personality. Had I gotten in that first Fox debate, along with Cain! I’m staying with this, I’m not going anywhere, and I expect to get in a debate as the field narrows. I just released my third commercial, on that same theme of: what would it be like if I were in a debate?
It’s the Shirley Chisholm strategy, and it’s always been my back-up. She was the first African-American to run for president. She was a member of Congress. Faced far more obstacles then I’m facing. She persevered until it was a two-man race. And she had to take the complaint to the Federal Communications Commission. The fourth two-person debate became a three-person. It was obviously too late, but she did participate in that final debate in late June 1972.
Your campaign seems driven primarily by Romney. What if he’s not the nominee? Could you see yourself supporting, say, Gingrich or Perry? What about Huntsman, who is also Mormon?
I’m a debate away from being a first-tier candidate, so I’m not speculating on anyone other than Fred Karger. There are certain candidates I’m more comfortable with.
Where are you right now?
I’m at Staples, in Manchester. They say it’s your office!
At RJC Forum, Prez Candidates Will ‘Put to Bed Smears’ [Washington Jewish Week]
Related: Elder Statesman [Tablet Magazine]
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.