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January 20, 2012

Why Ron Paul Matters

Listed in: Israel, NJDC News, Opinions

Originally published in Washington Jewish Week

By David A. Harris, President and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council 

During the past few weeks, we have been sounding the alarm bells in response to anti-Israel Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-Texas) ascent in the Republican primary process. Paul’s rising influence is not just a Republican or a Democratic problem - it’s an American problem, and one that must be seriously addressed by those who have the means and the influence to achieve results.

Paul’s antagonism towards the U.S.-Israel relationship is well known. Recently, he put forth an amendment to cut off aid to Israel, disparaged the U.S.-Israel relationship on Iranian television and elsewhere, empathized with Iran’s nuclear weapons program and used his appearances on nationally televised debates to vocally oppose the policies supported by pro-Israel Americans. All of this is in addition to his racist, conspiratorial, and anti-Semitic newsletters that bear his name, about which he continues to dodge questions - not to mention his extreme positions on other foreign and domestic issues.

Thankfully, a President Paul is extremely unlikely, at best. But his recent rise in the polls is unfortunately making him a power broker in the Republican Party. First Paul scored a third-place win in Iowa, then a second-place showing in New Hampshire - besting all of those trying to take on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the GOP. But digging deeper into the New Hampshire results, there are more signs of Paul’s growing GOP strength; stunningly, he tripled the total number of votes he received over his 2008 primary race there. He continues to organically raise large sums of money from activists and is a magnet for energized youth. And in Virginia, as of this writing, he is the only GOP candidate other than Romney who even made it onto the ballot. All of these factors enable him to continue competing with Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee - who does not share Paul’s views on Israel.

Romney apparently recognized Paul’s importance and extended hypothetical support to him if he were to win the nomination. He even offered hope that Paul would reverse his decades of antagonism towards Israel during an interview with CNN. Romney has been cordial to Paul - in contrast to his other GOP rivals - perhaps because he recognizes Paul’s power in the party. He likely knows that he will need Paul’s support, and that of his committed supporters, later on in the presidential race - especially in a close contest. But even more crucial for Romney’s political future is that he needs to prevent Paul from launching a third party candidacy that would ultimately cost him significant numbers of votes, and potentially the general election.

Preventing Paul from running again as a third party candidate will likely require the GOP to meaningfully accommodate Paul within the Party establishment. This could translate into any number of things: a meaningful speaking slot at the GOP convention in Tampa, which would regrettably legitimize his views; an even larger free pass on his anti-Israel views than he has now; or deal-making power on any number of fronts - including input on the vice presidential pick.

Perhaps most dangerously, Paul could be assuaged by assurances of future support for his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who shares so many of the dangerous policy positions of his father but with less baggage; Rand’s aspirations are widely known. Any of these options mean one thing: Paul’s anti-Israel views will gain an increased measure of acceptability in the Republican Party.

Paul’s increasing strength and success should do more than concern Republicans - who have a unique and important responsibility to cast Paul and his extremist views out of the GOP. His ascent should concern all pro-Israel, mainstream Americans who care about American global leadership, regardless of party. Democrats will do our part, but unsurprisingly, Republican voters do not turn to Democratic voices for trusted information. The time has come for the leadership of the Republican Party to condemn Paul’s fringe views, and for the GOP and Jewish Republicans to engage in education efforts among remaining Republican primary voters, to ensure they know the truth about Ron Paul. There’s simply too much at stake.