WASHINGTON (Aug. 18)
There has been some controversy over whether Vice President George Bush’s recent 10-day visit to the Middle East accomplished anything for the Reagan Administration’s goals in the region. But there is no question that the trip was beneficial to Bush’s campaign for the Presidency.
This was especially true of his visit to Israel, where a political action committee television crew filmed Bush, not only at meetings with Israeli leaders, but at Yad Vashem, the Western Wall, David Ben Gurion’s grave and talking to Soviet and Ethiopian Jewish immigrants.
Bush does not have the popularity in the Jewish community achieved over the years by two of his potential rivals for the Republican nomination for the Presidency, Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole of Kansas and Rep. Jack Kemp of New York. So it will not be surprising to see the films of Bush in Israel turn up in primary campaigns and, if he wins the GOP nomination, in the general campaign in 1988.
There is nothing wrong in this. After all, Bush was preceded to Israel by two other Presidential hopefuls, Kemp and Sen. Gary Hart (D. Colo.).
CARRYING A BURDEN
But Bush, as well as any other Republican candidate for the Presidency, is burdened in his effort to win a large share of the Jewish vote, traditionally Democratic, by the support the Republicans give to Christian fundamentalists, especially on the church-state issue.
In 1984, the Republicans believed they could win at least 50 percent of the Jewish vote for President Reagan, not only because of his strong support for Israel, but because of Jewish anger over what they considered anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks by the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the Democratic primary campaign. While the Democratic candidate, Walter Mondale, had long enjoyed support in the Jewish community, many were concerned that he had not distanced himself enough from Jackson.
However, after Reagan, in a speech at a prayer breakfast during the Republican National Convention in Dallas, accused opponents of prayers in public schools of being intolerant of religion, the church-state issue became the major concern among Jews. Many were fearful of what they saw as an attempt by the Christian Right to “Christianize America.”
Jackson will again be a factor in the 1988 campaign, but evangelists are making themselves heard even more in the Republican Party, especially with television evangelist Pat Robertson looking every day more and more like a Presidential candidate. No one expects Robertson to get the Republican nominations. But he should get enough votes, especially in the south, to ensure that the other Republican hopefuls will have to adopt many of his views, especially on the church-state issues.
At a meeting with several Jewish and Israeli journalists after his Mideast trip, Bush conceded that the ties he has had with the Rev. Jerry Falwell in recent years could hurt him in the Jewish community, as it did Reagan. But, he quickly added, that he would hope to be perceived, as Reagan is, as the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House.
No one expects either Bush or Kemp or Dole to risk the support they have in the evangelical community to gain Jewish votes, at least now. But at the same time there appears to be a backlash among mainstream Republicans over the attempts by the Christian Right to inject a religious agenda into national politics.
Bush, after all, handily won the Michigan preference ballot contest for delegates to the 1988 Republican national convention. This early test may be meaningless, but Robertson did far less well than expected despite the increased voter registration among followers of his popular television program.
Perhaps even more important is the case of Rep. Mark Siljander (R. Mich.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and an outspoken supporter of Israel. But the three-term Congressman is also the most vocal spokesman for Christian evangelicals in Congress and during the Republican primary campaign, he said his victory was needed to “break the back of Satan.”
Siljander lost the election to Fred Upton and thus became the only incumbent Congressman so far to be defeated in a primary election.