UPDATE: Representative Walter Jones (R) won his primary campaign last night, beating Taylor Griffin 50.91 percent to 45.05 percent. The Emergency Committee for Israel, which spent over $300,000 attacking Jones, has remained silent about their latest electoral setback. Dylan Williams, director of government affairs at J Street, quipped on Twitter, “At this point Emgncy Comte for Israel’s done more to destroy myth that there’s political cost to pro-diplomacy positions than we have.”
Today, an odd battle for the future of the Republican Party’s foreign policy is being fought in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, as Taylor Griffin, a former financial services consultant, challenges ten-term congressman Walter Jones for the GOP nomination. Jones has shifted toward a libertarian foreign policy position since supporting the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But while big-money interests are running ads attacking Jones as insufficiently supportive of Israel and not tough enough on Iran, one person is surprisingly quiet on the foreign policy battle being fought: Taylor Griffin.
The Emergency Committee for Israel spent spending over $300,000 in the month of April to run attack ads accusing Jones of being “the most liberal Republican in Congress,” despite the fact that the American Conservative Union ranked him as one of their “ACU Conservatives”—members of Congress who score 80 percent or higher on the organization’s annual matrix of “key conservative voting issues.” Griffin’s entire primary campaign raised approximately $250,000.
The attacks on Jones have focused on his opposition to further sanctions on Iran while the White House and the P5+1 continue negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and on his endorsement from J Street, a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group.
While ECI, a group co-founded by neoconservative political operative Bill Kristol and originally based out of Orion Strategies’ office, home of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, is spending big to make the case about Jones’s shift toward an isolationist foreign policy doctrine, Griffin has been noticeably absent from the debate.
The candidate’s campaign website lists thirteen issue areas in which he takes a position. “Commercial & Sport Fishing” and “Eastern North Carolina Values” get a section. Iran, Israel, foreign policy and national security are nowhere to be found.
Griffin may have a very good reason to stay out of the debate: the neoconservative foreign policy vision espoused by his supporters is wildly unpopular and outside the mainstream. ReThink Media’s analysis of polls conducted between September 2013 and February 2014 found that a majority or plurality of Americans support the interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1. A mid-November ABC/Washington Post poll reported that 64 percent of respondents support lifting some sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on the country’s nuclear program.
Griffin found a lucrative source of campaign funds by teaming up with Iran hawks for campaign contributions. His biggest source of campaign contributions, kicking in $46,850, came from employees of Elliott Management, a hedge fund managed by GOP mega donor and noted Iran hawk Paul Singer.
ECI, Paul Singer and other neoconservatives may be funding Griffin as a more palatable alternative to Walter Jones, but if today’s primary is a referendum on the isolationist foreign policy stances taken by Jones, it’s noteworthy that Griffin has rarely mentioned foreign policy in interviews and makes no mention of Iran or Israel on the issues section of his website. Griffin, it would appear, has made the calculation that Republicans in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District are either sympathetic to Jones’s shift away from the George W. Bush administration’s adventurist foreign policy or they simply don’t care. Griffin would rather talk to them about fishing.