More than a few people wrote to complain about my story last week on the potentially damaging impact of the “tea party” movement on the Republican Party’s continued outreach to Jewish voters.
The tea partiers “love Israel,” one said. Others accused me of just parroting a tired old liberal line equating conservatism to anti-Semitism.
Then came this weekend’s Conservative Political action Conference in Washington and the stunning victory of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) in the presidential straw poll.
Why did Paul, a former Libertarian candidate who sees dark conspiracies in the Federal Reserve and other places , beat GOP stars like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and even Sarah Palin?
According to most analysts – including many in the conservative press – Paul owes his victory to the young Tea party insurgents who are taking their anti-government rage and assorted conspiracy theories into the Republican ranks, hoping to remake the party in their own image. Paul, the most anti-establishment, anti-government figure in the party, apparently won over many of these tea party activists.
And as David Harris of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) pointed out with unseemly glee, Paul has a “horrendous record on Israel and other issues of Jewish concern.” (Read Harris’ statement here.)
Among other things, Paul has called for an end to U.S. aid to Israel, slammed AIPAC “control” of U.S. policy and said Israeli policy on Gaza amounts to keeping Palestinians in a “concentration camp.” Paul has also opposed Iran sanctions, a top priority of most pro-Israel groups.
Yes, I know: the tea party movement is a big, churning and somewhat diverse collection of people, including some conservatives who think Israel is cool.
But as almost all the political scientists I talked to said, the insurgent movement also includes elements that are likely to scare the heck out of Jewish voters. If Ron Paul’s victory in the CPAC straw poll is any indication, that faction is going to give GOP strategists a lot of ulcers in the weeks and months to come.