Jewish Republicans Dragged Into GOP Battle Between Tea Party and Moderates

Establishment Image Frays as Some Push Right-Wing Gospel

GOP Civil War: Ari Fleischer, a onetime spokesman for George W. Bush, is pushing the Republican Party to take more moderate positions. Others say grassroots GOP Jews sympathize more with Tea Party conservatism.
GOP Civil War: Ari Fleischer, a onetime spokesman for George W. Bush, is pushing the Republican Party to take more moderate positions. Others say grassroots GOP Jews sympathize more with Tea Party conservatism.

By Nathan Guttman

Published April 08, 2013, issue of April 12, 2013.
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The RNC’s otherwise highly self-critical autopsy report devoted a rare moment of praise to the RJC for its success in “engaging its community and increasing its Republican support.” Some 30% of Jewish voters chose Romney over Obama, a high point in recent years and almost triple the percentage of Jews who supported George H. W. Bush in 1992. “Just imagine what would have happened if the Republicans were able to triple the black vote or the Hispanic vote,” Fleischer said.

But Jewish numbers can be deceiving.

Tevi Troy, a former top Bush administration official, has been analyzing the correlation between the Jewish vote for Republican candidates and the candidates’ success in the general election. He found that until the recent presidential race, Republican candidates who fared relatively well with Jewish voters won the general elections. “In the past,” Troy said, “it was clear that the Jewish vote was a bellwether for winning over the moderates.”

This time around, Romney’s achievements among Jews did not signal any similar success with moderate voters. The reason, Troy said, may have to do with the changing face of the Jewish Republican voter, who is no longer necessarily a fiscal conservative with mainstream views on family and social issues. This emergent, more diverse Republican Jewish electorate includes, alongside the socially moderate donors, more strongly ideological conservative thinkers that make up the party’s intellectual backbone, such as William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer and Yuval Levin. There is also a growing constituency of Orthodox Jewish voters who, according to Troy, “are not turned off by social issues.”

Ballabon, who counts himself among this number, shares the view that Jewish Republicans can be found on both sides of the debate. The dividing line is between rich businessmen who vote Republican because “they want tax breaks” and grassroots Jewish voters who are “social conservatives with a strong emphasis on Israel.”

Indeed, among the Jewish activists attending this year’s CPAC were members of Young Jewish Conservatives, an organization that has been sending activists to the event for the past two years. The group defines its mission as empowering politically conservative young Jews and providing them with “tools to defend” their values. “We are proud to label ourselves as conservative,” the group stated on its website.

There remains, however, one wildcard among the GOP’s major donors. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul whose super PAC shaped the presidential race in 2012, initially bucked the trend of Jewish money going to relatively more moderate candidates by pouring millions into the campaign of former House speaker Newt Gingrich. Adelson, who is the RJC’s chairman, is widely believed to have chosen Gingrich for his views on Israel and not because of social issues. Many observers believe that Adelson’s willingness to spend seemingly endless amounts of money on campaign donations could make a difference in the outcome of the current intra-party struggle. But Troy, for one, cautioned against viewing the struggle one-dimensionally.

“It is not clear where he stands, but he is important only in fundraising,” Troy said, “and our problem in these elections was not a lack of funds.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter, @nathanguttman


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