While Democrats in Charlotte, N.C., were basking in the Bill Clinton afterglow and eagerly awaiting President Obama’s Thursday night acceptance speech, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was making the most of an embarrassing misstep concerning the capital of Israel.
In the past day, the Romney camp has blasted out several mass emails condemning the Democratic Party platform’s deletion of a 20-year-old plank designating Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. The Republicans have also sought to make hay out of Democratic leadership’s awkward attempt to clean up the politically touchy mess, when convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa reinstated the plank Wednesday afternoon after three cringe-worthy voice votes, prompting raucous boos from opponents on the floor of the Time Warner Cable Arena.
Romney himself was quick to take advantage of the gaffe by going on Fox News to raise suspicions about the sincerity of the president’s backing of the United States’ longtime ally—a hot-button issue for many Jewish voters and Christian evangelical conservatives.
“I find that one more example of Israel being thrown under the bus by the president,” Romney said. “I think it’s a very sad day.”
The president’s team was caught flat-footed, as Obama political guru David Axelrod admitted Thursday morning during Politico’s Playbook Breakfast.
“I think it’s fair to say it was brought to our attention by people who were scrutinizing our platform more closely,” Axelrod told Politico’s Mike Allen. “So we learned about it when Republicans raised it, and it became the latest ball of yarn for the news media.”
Axelrod was apparently in the dark about how and why the plank was removed during deliberations by the platform committee. “I don’t precisely know,” he said, “but obviously it was done without the accedence of the president. When he saw what was going on, he said, ‘Let’s just put it back,’ and that’s what he did.”
Official U.S. policy has long been that the status of Jerusalem is something to be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians as part of a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, and Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu have clashed repeatedly over issues large and small during the past three and a half years. But Axelrod insisted the president’s “thinking” hasn’t changed since 2008, when he claimed at a confab of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington, that he believed that Jerusalem should be Israel’s capital.
Everyone from House Minority Leader Eric Cantor to Democratic strategist Paul Begala has criticized the party’s mishandling of the issue, and the Romney camp—no doubt seeing an opportunity in the battleground state of Florida—is clearly unwilling to let it go.
Asked if he expects the Romney team to target the important bloc of Jewish voters in Florida, he said, “Obviously, I think they may try and do that, but as with many things, I think they’re always looking to latch onto tangential things and try to make a point that isn’t valid.” He added: “The president has been the strongest supporter of Israel.”