Will Newt Gingrich work political magic for Jewish Republicans who hope to exploit concerns about President Barack Obama’s Israel policies to increase their share of the Jewish vote in next year’s presidential election?
Maybe, but many Jewish GOPers aren’t betting on it.
Gingrich, the former House speaker, was expected to formally throw his hat in the 2012 ring this week.
Several Jewish Republicans argued this week that Gingrich will appeal to Jewish swing voters because of his experience — and because he seems something of an intellectual heavyweight in a field that may include Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
In the 1990s Gingrich was congressional point man for Likud politicians and was reportedly very close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when Bibi was in the Knesset and during his first stint as premier.
But that may not count for much with the big majority of American Jewish voters whose Election Day decisions are based much more on domestic factors than on Israel, several close political observers said this week. And on those issues, Gingrich could prove to be electoral poison.
“I’ll never understand why Jewish Republicans think that Newt Gingrich will draw in Jewish voters,” said University of Florida political scientist Kenneth Wald, director of the school’s Center for Jewish Studies. “He has a personal history that doesn’t inspire trust, and he’s on the wrong side of virtually every issue.”
That includes hot-button “values” issues such as abortion and gay rights and the new Republican drive to change entitlement programs like Medicare.
At this stage, a bigger problem may be Gingrich’s lack of appeal to Jewish Republican campaign donors.
“Newt really is good. But the fact of the matter is, he is totally unelectable because of his baggage, because he was a firebrand,” said Fred Zeidman, a Texas businessman and longtime Jewish Republican leader.
“Israel is not a priority for most Jewish voters; they’re not going to vote for Newt because he’s the strongest on Israel — and I’m not even sure that’s true,” Zeidman continued. “They won’t vote for him because of his rhetoric, which gives the impression that he’s extreme right. I don’t think there will be much support for him at all.”
Like many leading Jewish Republicans, Zeidman is backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, in part because they view him as the most electable contender.
Other Jewish Republicans say Gingrich’s lack of executive experience will be a big liability.
“I don’t anticipate Gingrich getting much traction with Jewish Republican givers because he doesn’t have that experience,” said political consultant Lee Cowen, another top Romney backer. “We’re dealing with a president right now whose first experience as an executive has been in the White House; part of the reaction against him is that we need someone with executive experience. The Jewish Republican business wing really feels this.”
But Gingrich has one Jewish backer with the deepest possible pockets: the gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson. With 2012 expected to once again set campaign spending records, that’s not exactly chopped liver.