James Baker, J Street, and the Transformation of the Republican Party

The difference a quarter century makes


When Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting D.C. a few weeks ago, I wrote a my-how-things-have-changed post about the days when it was a Republican administration that found itself somewhat at odds with Israel. The president then was George H.W. Bush, and the secretary of state was James Baker, a diplomat of the realist school. For some details on their dealings with Israel, read the post.

As if to prove the point about how far the center of Republican opinion had moved, Baker himself was in the news this week. The New York Times reports:

J Street Blues

The warnings trickled in soon after an announcement began circulating last month that James A. Baker III, the former diplomat who is now a foreign policy adviser to [potential presidential candidate] Jeb Bush, would be a featured speaker at a conference hosted by J Street, the liberal pro-Israel advocacy organization.

It could be problematic, conservative donors and Israel hawks told Mr. Bush's team, if Mr. Baker spoke at the event, according to three people briefed on the discussions….

Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul and a powerful donor to Republican "super PACs," is among those who have expressed concerns to Mr. Bush's friends and allies, several of them said. Mr. Adelson is said to be incensed over Mr. Baker's comments and the lack of pressure put on him by the Bush team before his address—a significant concern, given that Mr. Adelson has the resources to pour tens of millions of dollars into the Republican presidential primary.

You can read the rest here. But the upshot is that Jeb Bush's association with James Baker is starting to spark the sort of Republican reaction ordinarily reserved for an association with Bill Ayers. In the GOP of 2015, the old Bush/Baker approach to Middle Eastern policy is being treated like a tainted foreign import.