The Iranian nuclear threat is not just a Jewish issue but could be a major factor -- and an unpredictable one -- for the general electorate in this year's presidential contest, according to William Kristol, a leading Jewish conservative intellectual.
"I won't be surprised to see Israeli action against Iran this summer, and that is a total wild card," Kristol, founder of The Weekly Standard, said during an April 11 talk in Center City.
The staunch critic of President Barack Obama's Mideast policies said that if Israel does strike and Obama backs the Jewish state, "it might end up helping him. If it does go well, people may think" he did the right thing and "Iran's nuclear program was set back, what's the problem?"
Then again, it could prove a foreign-policy disaster for the administration, said Kristol.
Kristol, the son of the pioneering neoconservative thinker Irving Kristol and a onetime chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, sized up the presidential contest in a talk to about 60 members of the David Horowitz Philadelphia Freedom Center, a local group named after the onetime left winger who is now a firebrand conservative activist.
The event took place at the Union League of Philadelphia a day after former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum dropped out of the Republican presidential race, unofficially ushering in the general election campaign between Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Kristol, 59, is a founder of the Emergency Committee for Israel, a group that has taken a leading role in attacking Obama and the Democrats on Israel. Craig Snider, founder and director of the Philly Horowitz center, credited the committee with helping Republican Pat Toomey defeat Democrat Joe Sestak in the 2010 Pennsylvania Senate race by running a series of negative print and television ads against Sestak.
Despite his partisan perspective, Kristol said that the current climate offers a "slight edge" to Obama, with the incumbent having a reasonable shot at getting 50 percent to 51 percent of the vote. Democrats, he noted, have won three out of five presidential elections -- and won the popular vote but lost the race in a fourth --since the end of the Cold War.
Romney, he said, needs to make the election about the future and would do his campaign and the party a huge favor by focusing less on his business experience and offering more concrete ideas on how to grow the economy.
In addition to Iran, Kristol pointed to several unknown factors that could throw the race for a loop. One is the U.S. Supreme Court's expected June decision on the health care law, Obama's signature legislative achievement.
He also said that the Wisconsin recall election in June of Gov. Scott Walker -- who has clashed bitterly with unions representing state workers -- could be a real bellwether for the national electorate.
If Walker holds on to his job, Kristol said, "that would be a good sign that the electorate remains close to where it was in 2010" when the Republicans took back the House of Representatives. "If they take Scott Walker out for doing, really, what everyone ran on in 2010, I think it's a bad sign."
It's almost unheard of in an election year, he concluded, "to have a major Supreme Court decision, a major recall election and a major foreign-policy crisis all conceivably coming to a head between the end of the primaries and the conventions."