Longshot No More: Ron Paul leads one poll and is second in another, going into the Iowa caucuses. That has sparked new worries about his isolationist views and extremist supporters.

Is GOP Candidate Outside the Mainstream — And Winning?

Washington — With polls predicting a  comfortable second-place finish — or even a shot at first — for Ron Paul in the  nation’s first GOP presidential test in Iowa, the Texas libertarian is laughing  all through the cornfields, and Jewish activists are starting to worry.

Once disregarded as marginal and unimportant, Paul, a staunch opponent of  U.S. military involvements abroad, is beginning to draw attention. And while no  one expects him to win the Republican nomination, his surge is seen as a problem  in itself.

“Extremists embrace his anti-government views,” said Abraham Foxman, national  director of the Anti-Defamation League, “so at the end, he legitimizes extreme  views on U.S. aid to Israel, and he legitimizes extreme views that are not only  racist and homophobic but also anti-Israeli, and at times anti-Semitic.”

Foxman stressed, however, that he does not view Paul as anti-Semitic though  some of his followers are.

Despite these concerns, experts don’t see any broader “Ron Paul phenomenon” taking hold in the Republican Party. Nor do they believe that an extreme form of  isolationism, which includes anti-Israel sentiment, is making its way into the  GOP mainstream. Paul, political analysts argue, has the right combination of  enthusiasm and organization to score big in Iowa’s quirky straw-poll system for  selecting a primary presidential favorite, but it won’t take him much  further.

A December 22 Rasmussen poll predicted Paul would receive 20% of the vote in  Iowa’s January 3 caucuses, coming in second after Mitt Romney. An Iowa State  University poll published a day earlier put Paul in the lead, with 27.5% of the  votes.

Paul, a congressman from Texas, has been the strongest and, at times, the  only libertarian voice within the Republican Party. A physician by profession,  Paul won the nickname “Dr. No,” which pretty well sums up his voting record. He  has been a consistent opponent of any legislation authorizing the use of  military power and views as unconstitutional federal entitlement programs such  as Social Security and Medicare, not to mention a lot of other things the  federal government does. Ron Paul’s campaign did not respond to requests to  interview the candidate.

While Paul’s views on domestic and international issues are a source of  concern for most in the Jewish community, critics point to his writings from the  1980s and ’90s as no less of a problem.

A newsletter called The Ron Paul Political Report included recurring extreme  racist comments and anti-Israel rhetoric, as well as endorsement of conspiracy  theories that Israel was behind the 1993 terror attack on New York’s World Trade  Center. Paul’s campaign attempted to distance the candidate from his namesake  publication, saying he did not write or authorize the articles in it.

Eric Dondero, a former aide to Paul, wrote on December 26 on the  RightWingNews website that Paul had said many times he “wishes the state of  Israel did not exist at all.” Dondero said that while he did not think Ron Paul  held anti-Semitic views, he is definitely “anti-Israel.”

Washington — In 2008, Paul’s run for the  Republican nomination drew little attention. He came in fifth in Iowa, with 10%  of the vote, and then watched his support disappear altogether as the primary  process moved on to other states.

Now, with daily mentions in the press, Paul’s surge has Jewish activists  edgy.

“I’m not saying that he is going to win or that the GOP is adopting his  views, but what he says does give legitimacy to the kind of things [Professor  John] Mearsheimer says,” argues Foxman, whose group has kept Paul on their radar  screens since he entered politics. Foxman was referring to the controversial  2007 book, “The Israel Lobby,” by Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, which accused  the pro-Israel community of wrongfully shifting U.S. foreign policy in favor of  Israel and against America’s interest.

In statements in recent months, Paul has made it clear that he opposes U.S.  foreign aid to all countries, including Israel. He also opposes American  military intervention in Iran, even if it moves forward with its plans for  nuclear development. Many view Iran’s development as a covert nuclear weapons  program, one viewed by Israel as a mortal threat.

“They are not a threat to Israel,” Paul opined in a December 15 debate hosted  by Fox News. “Israel has 200 to 300 nuclear missiles, and they can take of  themselves.”

One consequence of Paul’s surge has been a war of words between Jewish  Democratic and Republican partisans. The Republican Jewish Coalition took a  precautionary step and refused to invite Paul to a candidates’ forum it hosted  on December 7. The RJC’s executive director, Matt Brooks, explained at the time  that Paul was left out because he was “outside the mainstream.”

Democrats dismissed this gesture as insufficient. David Harris, president and  CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, issued a call to Jewish  Republicans to speak out forcefully against Paul, whom he called a “clear and  present danger.” Harris said he does not think Paul is just a flash in the pan,  and therefore, Jewish Republicans should take the initiative and proactively  educate voters against him.

“They are a very clever organization,” responded RJC board member Ari  Fleischer. “Nothing will make them happier than seeing us waste our money on a  candidate who isn’t going anywhere.”

Fleischer, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush, said that while  Paul is a “ferocious isolationist, whose views are a disaster to Israel,” there  is no chance his candidacy will go much further than Iowa.

Success in Iowa, said Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory  University, does not mean that Paul’s ideas are becoming more acceptable in the  Republican Party. “His positions on foreign policy are outside the Republican  mainstream,” he said. “He has a following that supports these views, but it is  limited.”

While isolationism — a label often applied to Paul’s views, though one he  rejects — has not seen a rise in the U.S. political landscape, polls indicate  there is a growing distaste among Americans for foreign intervention. A survey  published by the Pew Research Center in May, based on polling done a couple of  months earlier, found that a majority of Americans, 58%, think the U.S. should “pay less attention to problems overseas,” whereas only a third believe it is “best to be active in world affairs.” Majorities in all voter groups shared this  view, with moderate Democrats opposed most strongly to U.S. involvement  overseas.

But it is conservative Republicans who had made the greatest shift away from  internationalism. In 2004, during the Bush presidency and U.S. immersion in wars  in Iraq and Afghanistan, a majority of conservative Republicans supported  intervention in overseas affairs. But by 2011, most had changed their views. A  strong majority now believes America should focus on domestic issues.

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