Rick Santorum and the Jewish Vote

Republican's Trashing of Church-State Divide Kills GOP Brand

Makes Jews Wanna Holler: Rick Santorum is courting evangelical Christian voters by saying he favors a much looser interpretation of the church-state divide. That stance is likely to repel Jewish voters from him, and the Republican Party.
getty images
Makes Jews Wanna Holler: Rick Santorum is courting evangelical Christian voters by saying he favors a much looser interpretation of the church-state divide. That stance is likely to repel Jewish voters from him, and the Republican Party.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published March 01, 2012, issue of March 09, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Politicians have been trying to loosen that bond ever since, usually without success. Abraham Lincoln tried in 1860, asking Chicago lawyer Abe Jonas to spearhead an effort. It failed. Ulysses S. Grant tried recruiting banker Joseph Seligman as his secretary of Treasury, but was turned down. With rare exceptions, the combination of Jefferson’s secularism, Andrew Jackson’s economic populism and Woodrow Wilson’s internationalism have kept Jews’ loyalty firm.

GOP hopes have risen in recent decades, spurred by rising Jewish affluence and self-assurance. Dwight Eisenhower drew 40% of Jewish voters in 1956; Ronald Reagan won nearly that in 1980. Since then, though, Republicans have been trending relentlessly downward.

The current slide may have begun on September 12, 1991. That day, then-president George H.W. Bush unwittingly marked the 31st anniversary of Kennedy’s historic speech by publicly attacking a gathering of Jewish citizen-lobbyists as “some powerful political forces.” The slur outraged Jews nationwide, unleashing a flood of donations that helped defeat the Republican candidate in a special senatorial election nine weeks later in — where else? — Pennsylvania. The Republican, embarrassingly, was Bush’s own attorney general, popular ex-governor Dick Thornburgh. The winner was Harris Wofford. He was defeated three years later by Rick Santorum.

Obama’s troubles have lately reignited GOP hopes. In February, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a survey showing that Jewish identification with Republicans had risen from 20% in 2008 to 29% now. But the survey included a mere 334 Jewish respondents, giving it a high margin of error. Moreover, it was conducted last fall, before Santorum’s surge. Even if he ends up losing, he’s probably ruined the Republican brand among Jews for another generation.

Will it ever change? If it does, it will start in Pennsylvania, still ground zero for Jewish partisan fighting. Consider the Bush debacle of 1992, for example. That was the beginning of a Jew-vs.-Jew seesaw battle, then a rarity, in the heavily Jewish 13th congressional district outside Philadelphia, where Democrat Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky narrowly defeated Republican Jon Fox, then promptly lost to him in 1994. Jew-vs.-Jew seesaws are more common now, but none tops the Minnesota senatorial seat held successively since 1978 by Republican Rudy Boschwitz, Democrat Paul Wellstone, Republican Norm Coleman and now Democrat Al Franken, with nary a gentile in the mix.

In the end, of course, the struggle for the Jewish vote is really a battle for the Jewish soul. To understand it, look no further than the long-running Pennsylvania seesaw between onetime Democratic Philadelphia district attorney Arlen Specter, long-serving Republican senator Arlen Specter and now-defeated Democratic senator Arlen Specter. His path recalls nothing so much as Yogi Berra’s comment upon learning in 1956 that a Jew, the great Bobby Briscoe, had been elected Lord Mayor of Dublin: “Only in America.”

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.