It was a lively week in presidential politics, a welcome relief from stories about killer tornados, the debt ceiling crisis and other natural disasters.
There was former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s motorcycle appearance at Rolling Thunder on Washington’s Mall and her East Coast bus tour, and the strange rise of pizza king Herman Cain in the GOP standings (just weeks after Donald Trump rose to the top of the heap and abruptly folded).
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Mn.) continues to make presidential noises and build a national organization – and talk about Israel, a sure sign of presidential ambitions. The left-of-center magazine Mother Jones reported that it’s all part of her enthusiasm for the Christian Apocalypse: “Want to understand the Minnesota lawmaker’s prophecy-driven politics? Tune in to her favorite end-times-themed radio show.”
And this week former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney made it official: he’s in a race he’s been running full time since he lost the nomination fight the last time around. I didn’t hear any Perry White-like cries of “stop the presses.” Pundits immediately proclaimed him the frontrunner who has little chance of winning, if you can figure that one out.
What all this means for Jewish politics isn’t too hard to figure out – at least at this early point in the race.
Romney enters the race as the strong favorite of Jewish Republican establishment figures – the big givers and party honchos who tend to focus on economic issues, business concerns and the little matter of electability. Among that group, the perception remains strong that Romney is the GOP contender best positioned to beat Obama in a presidential election shadowed by the darkening economy.
Sure, there are outliers in the Jewish community who think Palin is great, and I bet you could even turn up a Bachmann supporter or two (remember Pat Buchanan’s vocal Jewish supporter a few elections ago?). But institutional Jewish Republicans are pragmatists and mostly centrists. For that group, Romney is the 2012 favorite by a country mile.
The problem is, in a Republican primary process in which the Christian conservatives traditionally play a disproportionate role, Romney is in big trouble for those very same qualities, as well as his Mormon faith, which many evangelicals continue to see as dangerously sect-like.
And then there’s the Tea Party wild card. Romney, who promoted a Massachusetts health care law that looks suspiciously like the “ObamaCare” he’s now running against, is a red flag to that faction.
I’m inclined to agree with the Jewish Republican establishment folks: in an election I believe will be dominated by questions about Obama’s handling of a faltering economy, Romney is probably the Republican contender best positioned to exploit that vulnerability in the general election.
And as I’ve written, I’m pretty sure the economy will be a bigger issue for Jewish voters than Israel, and Romney could do pretty well with Jewish business types worried about surviving in today’s harsh economic climate.
But try as I might, I can’t see how Romney survives a GOP primary process skewed to the right. The qualities that could make him a winner in November, 2012 will just about sink him in critical Republican primaries; the more he tries to reposition himself as a Tea Party enthusiast, the more he looks like the ultimate flip-flopper.
One more presidential note before I sign off for the weekend: today’s Washington Post carried an op-ed by former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel arguing that Obama is “deeply committed to the peace and security of a Jewish state of Israel.”
Am I the only one who found this a little strange?
Emanuel just took over as mayor of Chicago, which means he has his hands full with that city’s myriad problems – yet he’s speaking out in the WaPo in defense of his former boss’s pro-Israel credentials.
I find it hard to believe he did this without being asked by the Obama campaign. Maybe the White House is a little more worried about the Jewish vote because of the Israel issue than I previously believed.