Looking at the relationship between the GOP and Arab-Americans, it is remarkable how much has changed in just seven years.  The time was when Candidate Bush was the one opposed to “secret evidence,” and he actually ended up getting 44.5% of the Arab-American vote in 2000.  He had Spence Abraham in his Cabinet.  The appeal to Arab-Americans was actually the only example of early Bush Era “minority” outreach that really worked come election-time.  Since most Arab-Americans are Christians from Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant backgrounds, and many of them are middle-class, it was fairly natural that there would be a Republican constituency among them.  Fast forward to the present, post-Iraq, post-Lebanon, and it is fairly amazing that there still are sizeable numbers of Arab-American Republicans.  Of course, many Arab-Americans are thoroughly assimilated, and those inclined to vote Republican are probably less prone to think in identity politics terms about policy quiestions, but it can hardly have helped the image of the GOP to be the leading force in support of the invasion of one Arab country and the excessive, indiscriminate bombing of another. 

This year Steve Clemons reports on the Arab-American Institute’s National Leadership conference, finding that no leading presidential candidates appeared there in person, with only Ron Paul, Gravel, Kucinich and Richardson making appearances.  Here is another example where Ron Paul is keeping the Republican flag flying in communities where it would otherwise be missing.  Of course, it probably helps with this group to be a candidate who opposed both the PATRIOT Act and the invasion of Iraq.  The three leading Dems sent representatives and taped messages, but no leading GOP campaigns were represented (Michigan “native” son Romney had a few brochures available). 

Clemons finds this absence of the major candidates ”outrageous,” and as these things go I suppose it is.  I think it is representative of a general disdain for Arabs and Americans of Arab descent, and it is a function of the ignorance about the Arab-Americans here that is just as appalling as the ignorance about the Christian communities in the Near East to which many of these Americans trace their descent.  In an odd dynamic, the very policies that are uprooting these communities in the Near East are bringing more Arab immigrants to America.  They are in turn going to be ignored by our political class here just as they were in the Near East, but I think this will ultimately be to the detriment of the party that adopts the most aggressive and hawkish policies in the Near East. 

Then again, if I were someone being advised by a Podhoretz or Pipes (Giuliani), a Liz Cheney (Thompson), or a Max Boot (McCain), I wouldn’t expect a favourable reaction to attending such a meeting, because if I were any one of these candidates I would end up saying things that the assembled audience would find either laughable or horrifying.  Romney could go on his riff on how ”it’s about Shia and Sunni” and be laughed off the stage.  All of the leading GOP candidates hold policy views that I assume must be very offensive to large numbers of Arab-Americans, so this may be an instance, like McCain ducking CPAC, where the campaigns saw no upside and a lot of potential problems.  Of course, no one in serious contention for the GOP nomination wants to be associated with this event, because I suspect they fear it would hurt their fundraising and their public image with core voters.  I assume Tancredo and Hunter didn’t go as a matter of some principle or other.  Besides, Tancredo is on the record having said multiple times that we should threaten nuclear strikes on Mecca and Medina as a way of “deterring” nuclear terrorism.  Even though most of the audience at this gathering was probably not Muslim, the idea itself is so awful that it is hard to see Tancredo getting anything other than a hostile reception.

Clemons has an interesting observation on the proceedings:

The room seemed majority Republican — but one could feel the tectonic shift of the community to the Democrats — or to Ron Paul — and away from the Republican frontrunners in a number of cases.

This is natural.  When the leadership and leading representatives of a party choose to adopt destructive, wrong-headed policies that harm both Arab-Americans and Arabs, it is only a matter of time before that translates into political changes in domestic party affiliation and support.  At least Ron Paul offers the audience an alternative face of the Republican Party, even if it is one that most Republicans don’t like. 

Obviously there is going to be a vast difference between the influence and draw of AIPAC and the Arab-American Institute.  One can bestow great favours and inflict serious political damage on a candidate, while the other simply hasn’t the clout to do either.