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News Analysis: Concern Mounts over Success of Buchanan in Early Gop Races

February 13, 1996
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Stung by Pat Buchanan’s strong early showing in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Jewish Republicans will continue to distance themselves from the man many consider a borderline anti-Semite.

Boosted by a second-place “victory” in this week’s lowa caucus and by last week’s upset in the Louisiana caucus, Buchanan has emerged as the early choice of the religious right for the GOP nomination.

While a Buchanan nomination remains a longshot, his strong showing early in the race has moderate Republicans rushing to loudly denounce him.

“Pat Buchanan has a very strong hate message and message of class warfare and unfortunately, a number of Republican lowans bought it,” said Bud Hockenberg, a Jewish Republican activist in Des Monies. “Pat Buchanan poses a grave danger for the Jewish community.”

Matt Brooks, executive director of the National Jewish Coalition, the pre- eminent Jewish Republican organization, said, “Pat Buchanan’s views are so far out of the mainstream of the Republican Party today that they are practically out of the Republican tent.”

Brooks added, “He is a rather larger nuisance, like a little dog who is constantly barking at your heels.”

Fearing that there will be a repeat of the 1992 convention debacle, when the party appeared intolerant and exclusive, Republicans pledged this year to keep the GOP’s far right wing in check.

“We’re not stupid. We learned from our mistakes in 1992,” Brooks said. “We have a much stronger party chairman and will have much stronger nominee who will stand up to the extreme forces in the party. There will be a series of ground rules precisely to avoid what happened in ’92.”

Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) won 26 percent of the lowa vote to Buchanan’s 23 percent. Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander finished third with 18 percent, followed by Steve Forbes with 10 percent and Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) with 9 percent. Conservative commentator Alan Keyes brought up the rear with 7 percent.

The candidates will travel to New Hampshire for Tuesday’s primary and then begin a five-week sprint through 30 states that will likely decide who will represent the GOP in the November elections.

Democrats in lowa gave President Clinton overwhelming support in the Democratic caucus, where he ran unopposed.

“Amazingly, 50,000 Democrats turned out to support the president in a year when he faced no opposition, compared with a total 100,000 Republicans for all their candidates,” said Gary Rubin, past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Monies and a board member of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

But Rubin also voiced concern over local support for Buchanan.

“This is a pretty grim scenario for lowans, and quite frankly an embarrassment,” Rubin said.

Buchanan has shunned the Jewish community during this campaign. The former presidential speech writer turned talk show commentator turned presidential aspirant as the only declared Republican candidate to decline an invitation to speak to a National Jewish Coalition forum last year.

Buchanan has championed a socially conservative platform with an emphasis on policy goals advocated by the religious right. He has promised to propose a constitutional amendment to outlaw all abortions in the United States, to take steps to end immigration and to bring prayer into the nation’s public schools.

In his current campaign, Buchanan has stayed away from the fiery rhetoric that led American Jewish Committee’s Kenneth Stern in a 1991 report to describe him as a man who is “no friend to the Jews, and has serious problems with `Jewish issues.'”

Buchanan has drawn the ire of the Jewish community for criticizing U.S. foreign aid to Israel as “subsidizing a policy that denies to Palestinians that God- given right to a homeland” and accusing Israel and its “amen corner” in the United States of leading the charge for the 1991 Gulf War.

Buchanan has riled the Jewish community in particular for his defense of accused nazi war criminals and support for views espoused by Holocaust deniers.

He has questioned the number of Jews gassed at Treblinka and accused survivors of having a syndrome of “group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics.”

He was particularly active in the defense of John Demjanjuk, and SS guard acquitted by the Israeli Supreme Court of being Ivan the Terrible. Nonetheless, the court found credible evidence that he committed crimes against humanity.

In addition, Buchanan stands accused of using classic anti-Semitic theories to fan his conservative ideology.

“The anti-Semitic models no which he has based his conservatism combine to produce a man with a severe Jewish problem,” Stern wrote in the 1991 paper on Buchanan, a sentiment that remains valid today.

“Buchanan has said things in the past that remain deeply troubling of the Jewish community,” said Stern, AJCommittee’s program specialist on anti- Semitism and extremism.

While most of the Jewish community remains on the sidelines watching the Buchanan campaign, at least one group has been actively protesting his candidacy.

“Pat Buchanan is the most dangerous anti-Semite in America today,” said Ronn Torrosian, national spokesman for the Coalition for Jewish Concerns – AMCHA.

“It is simply unbelievable that a man with this record of anti-Semitism and hate can get this strong a level of support in America,” said Torrosian, whose group, headed by Rabbi engagements.

With so much attention focused on Buchanan’s success in lowa and the rise of Alexander’s campaign, Dole has mockingly been labeled the “front walker” by many commentators.

Dole, a favorite among the many Jewish Republicans, attracted little support from religious votes in lowa and relied heavily on the vote of senior citizens.

With Buchanan running strong in New Hampshire – where he received 37 percent of the vote four years ago when he challenged then President George Bush – Dole has reason to worry, many observers say.

But Buchanan’s success to date is largely traced to the support of the religious right, who comprised an estimated 37 percent of voters in the lowa caucus.

This week’s caucus featured the votes of registrated Republicans in a state with a large evangelical Christian population that turned out to vote in significant numbers while many other GOP voters stayed home.

The religious right is expected to have less of an impact on the outcome of the New Hamsphire primary than in lowa.

“The road to San Diego is a very long process and Buchanan is very vulnerable with a number of constituencies,” Hockenberg said, referring to the site of the Republican convention scheduled for August.

The religious right is expected to play a large role on March 5, when voters go the polls in 12 states.

As the candidates trek to New Hampshire, Alexander and Dole are confident that there are fewer religious right voters to throw their political weight behind Buchanan.

In addition, the primary rules allow Independents to cast their votes for a GOP candidate that weakens the voting strength of the party’s right wing.

Brooks predicted that “we are seeing the heyday of the Buchanan candidacy. He will fade after New Hampshire.”

Regardless of whether Buchanan’s success continues, Jewish Democrats fear that his message has struck a chord in grass-roots America.

Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said Buchanan’s success is “very worrisome for all American and all of us as Jewish Americans.”

His success “proves that the radical right has a significant place in the party,” Forman said.

Rubin of Des Moines agreed that the results of the Iowa caucus demonstrated the influence of the religious right in the GOP, pointing out that “the candidates with an appeal to the right – Gramm, Keyes and Buchanan – together received a significant share of the caucus votes.”

For Jewish Democrats, however, Buchanan’s strong showing may have a silver lining.

Buchanan’s success “certainly plays in to the hand of the Democrats because people will rally to the Democratic Party if he continues on a successful path but I’m not hoping for that,” Forman said. “The country can’t afford Pat Buchanan’s success.”

Jewish Republicans disagree vigorously on the question of Buchanan’s national appeal.

“Buchanan in no way has a significant following,” Brooks said.

But he added that “he will be the social conservative candidate of this election.”

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