Mr. Romney goes to Jerusalem

By Andrew Aldrian

We proudly present Andrew Aldrian of Al-Ra˚yee: My Take on Issues in Int’l Relations as a contributing writer at Nationsmith.

Coming off a widely publicized trip to Israel this past weekend, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has employed an interesting new strategy for rejuvenating his otherwise stagnant campaign over the last few months. After fending off a proverbial onslaught of economic-minded propaganda, not to mention a heinous attack on his singing ability (was that commercial endorsed by Simon Cowell or what?), it appears that Romney has taken to the streets of Jerusalem in an attempt to draw some new attention to his bid for the White House. On Sunday, Romney pledged that “America [will] stand with you,” and that his presumptive administration “will not look away, and nor will my country ever look away from our passion and commitment to Israel.” Romney’s solidified pledge to the conflict-ridden nation is interesting for two reasons: 1) is this move purely political in nature- essentially an outstretched hand to American Jewish voters; and 2) is this is a solidification of his campaign’s foreign policy platform, an area that the presidential hopeful wishes to differentiate himself from his competition?

Let’s look at Romney’s visit to Israel from a campaign perspective first. Historically speaking, the Jewish community in the U.S. does not vote Republican, period. In fact, since 1972, the bloc has never dipped below 64% voter support in favor of the Democratic candidate (including ~75% voter support for Obama in his 2008 election), making them a predicable and dependable constituency from year to year. Knowing this, is the Israel issue really the quickest (if not the only) way to the Jewish community’s heart? Is Romney taking an innovative step to reversing this trend? Considering that only 31% of American Jews expressed “emotional attachment to Israel” in 2005, even a drastic increase in pro-Israel sentiment among Jewish voters would result in a 50% importance factor at best (in my opinion). These statistics are aside from the flagrant disagreements his party traditionally has with progressive voters regarding hot button social issues (which we could write a whole other article on). Doesn’t seem like the most influential tool to win the hearts and minds votes of your competition, eh Mitt?

Despite how ineffectual I think Romney’s visit will be in mobilizing Jewish votes on the basis of Israel , I think his trip accomplished a lot in terms of solidifying his campaign’s foreign policy platform. For starters, it’s becoming more and more evident that the new front of American foreign policy in the Middle East is shifting west, away from Kabul and towards Jerusalem. With new sound bites coming out of Tehran/Jerusalem each week, it will behoove Romney to essentially “look the part” in making very presidential speeches on very presidential issues. Secondly, Romney is removing himself, and his party, from a tarnished foreign policy reputation associated primarily with Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration has had relative success on those fronts (killing OBL and completing troop withdrawals from Iraq), and it’s best for Republicans to accept the political blemish associated with former president Bush and move forward. Perhaps most importantly, Romney is asserting himself as the best possible partner for Israeli PM Netanyahu going in to the future. The Obama administration has had a strained relationship with the staunch Prime Minister for the past 4 years, to say the least, and Romney casting himself as the most capable ally with Israel (especially in terms of denying Iran nuclear weapons) may end winning him a few undecided voters who value strengthened US foreign policy in the region and a more hardliner stance when it comes to Iran (Jewish or otherwise).

In the end, I think the Romney campaign has succeeded in using the Israel issue as a distraction, if nothing else, from the Obama administration’s economic spotlight. Whether or not these moves will directly result in increased Jewish votes for Romney we have yet to see. Certainly rebuilding Washington’s relationship with Israel is a great way to garner support from voters who value the U.S.’s relationship with Jerusalem and firm position in the Middle East, but will his party’s voter history and glaring social disparities prove more dissuading than any possible number of photo opp’s and handshakes with Bibi? We’ll see this November…