Though the ranks of single-issue pro-Israel Jewish voters (they comprise perhaps one-fourth of the Jewish electorate) have contracted as a result of mounting assimilation, those voters have nonetheless learned a lot over the past sixteen years.
Lesson number one: Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party, based on Clinton’s coddling of Yasir Arafat and his pussyfooting with Islamic terror, is not the comfortable home for pro-Israel Jews it was once thought to be.
Lesson number two: George W. Bush’s Republican Party – based on Bush’s shunning Arafat and his confronting Islamic terror – provides a more inviting home for advocates of a tight U.S.-Israel relationship.
Admittedly, single-issue Jewish voters are nowhere near being a dominant element in the still overwhelmingly pro-Democrat Jewish community. Yet signs are pointing to those voters favoring John McCain over either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in November. The reason? McCain’s decades-long support for Israel’s security and his tough approach to Islamic terrorism.
Certainly compared to the two remaining Democratic contenders, McCain’s positions on the Middle East have not been subject to sudden shifts, as was the case with Hillary Clinton when she set out to run for the U.S. Senate in 2000 and Barack Obama as he revved up his presidential campaign.
McCain can only strengthen his appeal to Jewish voters for whom Israel ranks at the top of any list of concerns by selecting Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas as his vice presidential running mate.
For one thing, McCain’s candidacy would be enhanced by Brownback’s conservative bona fides and relative youth (the Kansan is 51). For another, the presence of such a strong pro-Israel duo would accelerate the movement into the Republican Party already underway on the part of Israel-oriented Jewish voters.
The appeal to the pro-Israel community of a Brownback vice-presidential candidacy occurred to me recently while I sat listening to Brownback’s keynote address at the Jerusalem Conference (where he was the only U.S. congressional figure in attendance).
As a political scientist, I had been aware of his Israel advocacy, both from strategic and spiritual standpoints (Brownback is a devout Catholic, having converted from evangelicalism in 2002). Even so, four things stood out in his speech: his opposition to creating a Palestinian state, preferring instead some form of West Bank Arab confederation with Jordan; his opposition to any division of Jerusalem, an argument he made to Prime Minister Olmert; his integrity in refusing to disclose Olmert’s response after being badgered to do so from an audience heckler; and his introduction to the crowd of a yarmulke-wearing foreign policy legislative aide, an appointment surely made with no thought of pleasing his handful of Jewish Kansas constituents.
As McCain’s running mate, Brownback would bring credentials important to the Republican base such as his staunch pro-life record and the congressional amendment he introduced banning same sex marriage.
And as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he knows economics, an area where McCain needs strengthening. The conservative Club for Growth hailed Brownback’s record: “On taxes, Social Security reform, school choice, and tort reform, Senator Brownback has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to fighting for American taxpayers. His record on trade, political speech, and government regulation of business is generally pro-freedom with a few exceptions.”
To be sure, Brownback is hardly a “hard core” conservative. He shares McCain’s rather liberal leanings on immigration and he supports stem cell research. Though he opposed the Iraq troop surge, a position McCain notably championed, he voted against Democratic propositions for imposing war deadlines.
So far, no obvious favorite has emerged as a potential McCain running mate. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty are among those who’ve been mentioned, but they disagree with McCain on immigration and campaign finance reform while lacking Brownback’s strongly conservative economic credentials. And Kansas adds a regional balance to the Arizonan’s ticket not much different from Minnesota or South Carolina.
Given Brownback’s strong intellect, vigor, and exemplary position on Israel, his position on the McCain ticket in November could spell the difference in key Electoral College states such as Florida, California, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Moreover, the existence of such a ticket, so strongly committed to a secure Israel, might spur many Israel-centered voters who’ve voted Republican in recent presidential elections but still identify as Democrats to fully align with the GOP by changing their party registration, and perhaps even one day running for public office themselves as Republicans.