It’s not often that Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, spends his time trying to remove a Republican from office.
But that’s exactly what he’s doing in North Carolina’s third congressional district, where he is trying to knock off Walter Jones, a 71-year-old congressman swept into office in the Gingrich revolution of 1994. His solid Republican district that includes parts of Greenville, the state’s Outer Banks and, perhaps most important, the Marine Corps’s Camp Lejeune and its adjunct city of Jacksonville, known for its pawn shops and “massage” parlors. Now, Jones is facing the first well-funded primary challenger of his career.
It’s former Bush and McCain campaign aide turned public-affairs guru Taylor Griffin, and Kristol and outside groups are pouring a lot of cash into the race to ensure Jones’s demise in the May 6 primary.
The race doesn’t hew to the traditional narrative of the past five years, of a tea-party challenger attacking an incumbent for his coziness with the Washington establishment. Jones is instead being attacked for veering too far from the Republican mainstream.
Kristol is backing an ad that calls attention to Jones’s isolationist foreign-policy views, banking on voters in his district, a generally hawkish bunch, to reject them.
At a time when the longstanding Republican foreign-policy consensus has frayed, and when the views of the party’s potential 2016 nominees range from Rand Paul’s libertarian distrust of foreign entanglements to Marco Rubio’s more hawkish view of America’s role in the world, this battle will test the extent to which a traditional Republican outlook on foreign policy — a muscular defense and a strong support for America’s relationship with Israel — remains a litmus test among the GOP faithful.
Over the past decade, Jones, once voted the “kindest” member of Congress, has done an about-face on foreign affairs, going from the target of liberal ire for his attempt to rename the House cafeteria’s French fries “freedom fries” to one of the GOP’s most ardent opponents of the Iraq War. He is an embodiment of a larger unraveling of the Bush-era foreign-policy consensus that saw, for instance, former Texas congressman Ron Paul rise to some prominence within the party.
But with Jones, the turn of events was so swift that the liberal Mother Jones magazine featured him on the cover of its January/February 2006 issue in a piece that chronicled the Republican congressman’s “road to Damascus.”
Kristol and the group he chairs, the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), have gone into NC-03 with an ad buy of around $140,000. “Once upon a time, Congressman Walter Jones was a conservative, but he’s changed,” the ad declares. It slams him for preaching “American decline” and for his refusal to support a resolution declaring support for Israel. “Once upon a time,” the spot concludes, “Walter Jones was right for North Carolina, but he’s changed. Isn’t it time your vote changed as well?”