But the difference in partisan attitudes accelerated after 9/11. Relative support for Israel unsurprisingly went up among both Democrats and Republicans. 9/11 made Americans more sensitive to Israel’s terrorism-related security concerns, and Arafat’s decision to continue and accelerate the terrorist Second Intifada, replete with bus, cafe and synagogue bombings, was hardly likely to endear the Palestinian cause to Americans after 9/11.
But these factors had a greater influence on Republican opinion than on Democratic opinion. Democratic support for Israel never made it much past 50 percent, and has stalled there, while the upward trajectory among Republicans has been more dramatic, settling at an average of around 80 percent. I’d wager, moreover, that a far higher percentage of Republicans are enthusiastic supporters of Israel. Rank-and-file conservatives, in particular (and as Zengerle acknowledges) have made support for Israel a core element of conservative ideology.
In short, you have a Republican Party in which 80 percent of the grass-roots membership supports Israel, and a significant percentage of that 80 percent consider it a litmus-test issue. Meanwhile, the current Democratic administration has engaged in open rhetorical warfare against an Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Democrats tend to loathe and Republicans tend to admire. Under those circumstances, while it’s plausible that a candidate might modify his pro-Israel rhetoric in subtle ways to appeal to big donors like Adelson, or avoid giving a prominent campaign role to an adviser whom big donors don’t like, it’s really not possible given grassroots Republican opinion to imagine any scenario other than the GOP, and all its major presidential candidates, offering Israel strong support. The idea that instead this is a result of the $100 million or so that Sheldon Adelson spends on politics every four years, out of the many billions spent overall, is silly — sufficiently silly, in fact, that Zengerle can’t help but note in passing the factors mentioned above, while still sticking to his Adelson-centric hypothesis.
Actually, it’s worse than silly; it’s pernicious. Rather than engage is reasoned political analysis based on a rather obvious reading of the polling data, Zengerle chose to promote conspiratorial notions of wealthy billionaires buying American politics.