The panic over James Baker continues:
But the instant backlash from fellow Republicans that prompted Jeb Bush, the son of Mr. Baker’s best friend, to distance himself underscored just how much their party has changed on the issue of Israel. Where past Republican leaders had their disagreements with Israel, today’s Republicans have made support for the Jewish state an inviolable litmus test for anyone aspiring to national office.
This is fairly accurate, but the story makes it sound as if this were a new or recent development. Republican leaders have had disagreements with Israel in the past, but none of these leaders has been in office in over twenty years. The “shift” that the report describes was well underway by the mid-1990s, and by the turn of the century it was virtually complete among politicians and pundits. The difference between the Republican Party of the ’90s and the party today is that even mild criticism of specific Israeli policies is now considered beyond the pale. For that matter, merely being associated with someone that makes those criticisms is enough to earn the hard-liners’ wrath, as Jeb Bush has discovered this week. That is why we keep seeing stampedes of Republican candidates eager to prove their uncritical support of everything Israel does or might want to do.
Reflexive U.S. backing during the Bush era encouraged this intensification of support, and it has only become worse during the Obama years as hard-liners have sought to portray the current administration as hostile. To that end, hard-liners have redefined support to mean offering a blank check. In fact, it’s even worse than that, since a candidate can offer Israel a blank check as Jeb Bush has done and still be blamed for being too slow or unenthusiastic in his denunciations of others. Another report indicates that Bush hasn’t done enough to placate the hard-liners in his party. The Baker episode seems likely to cost him some backing that he would have otherwise received:
But the flare-up could thrust Mr. Bush into conflict with some of the most hawkish voices in his party, including some leading Republican donors, and a constituency determined to demonstrate its strength in the primary.
“A few months ago, people I speak to thought Jeb Bush was the guy. That’s changed,” said Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, a conservative pro-Israel organization.
It may be obvious, but it is worth emphasizing how deranged all of this is. It is already quite strange when anyone in this country has such a strong ideological attachment to another state, but to demand that all of a party’s candidates must share that attachment and share it to the same degree is madness. If the relationship with the other country were extremely useful to the U.S., it would still be absurd, but it might be a little easier to understand. When the relationship does virtually nothing for the U.S. and imposes significant costs on the U.S., as is the case with Israel, requiring all candidates to give reflexive support to the other state is bizarre and indefensible.