Before and throughout the presidential campaign, I was told repeatedly that Republican Jews were on the rise, that they were mounting a comeback and as much as 40 percent of American Jews would vote for McCain. Only Ronald Reagan in 1980 had fared that well with the Jewish vote, and, despite the rhetoric, McCain would be no Reagan.
Seventy-eight percent of Jews would vote for Barack Obama.
But the death of Jewish Republicanism is not what led Sen. Arlen Specter, who until last month was one of two Republican Jewish senators, to switch sides. Or so Jonathan Tobin, the new executive editor of Commentary, opined in his column for the Jerusalem Post. Tobin writes:
Rather it was the noxious personality of Specter and his indefatigable egotism that eventually earned him so many enemies in his home state party that nothing, not even the need to preserve a 40th Senate seat for the Republicans, could ameliorate the open hostility that he provoked.
Though in the age of Obama the Republican tent is far smaller than it used to be, there is plenty of room in it for fiscal conservatives and foreign policy hawks who don’t share the socially conservative views of Palin and others. Had Specter carved out a niche for himself on either of those topics, his views on abortion would never have brought him to the point where he had to jump from the GOP before he was pushed.
Jews remain incorrigibly liberal and more loyal to the Democrats than every sector of the population except African-Americans. The ascendancy of social conservatives in the Republican Party has ensured that this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future, even if this puts the Jews in the position of rejecting their closest allies on the question of security for the State of Israel. But this has little to do with Specter’s apostasy.
It may be that Jewish Republicans feel the senator’s defection puts a period on their hopes for a greater share of the Jewish vote. But that is more of a statement about their bad judgment in hitching their star to his shaky wagon than the supposed intolerance of a conservative-dominated party that desires purity over diversity. The strange journey of Arlen Specter from Democrat to Republican and back again to the Democrats is a story of one man’s unbridled ambition and political expediency, not the tale of a party held hostage by the Right.
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