This 1984 American presidential election is getting interesting. The newest question to emerge from it is whether the Republicans will be able to get a long-term advantage out of the Farrakhan affair.
They certainly have a short-term advantage, and have been making the most of it. Over the last weekend President Reagan declared that there is no room in the Republican Party for those who preach ''bigotry and ugly rhetoric.''
Mr. Reagan did not say specifically that he was referring to remarks made by Minister Louis Farrakhan of an organization called the Nation of Islam.
But Republican Vice-President George Bush had already made the reference specific. He said: ''Recent statements by Louis Farrakhan have no place in America. The President and I condemn in the strongest terms those who preach hate, racism, and anti-Semitism.''
That was a week ago. On that same day Senate Republicans sponsored a Senate resolution calling on the chairmen of both Republican and Democratic National Committees to issue written repudiations of the sentiments frequently expressed by Mr. Farrakhan. His sentiments have been stridently critical of Israel and derogatory toward the Judaic religion. The resolution carried 95 to 0.
Democrats have long been accustomed to a 2 to 1 or better advantage among Jewish voters and an even more important advantage over Republicans among Jewish contributors to political campaign funds.
Republicans have long yearned to whittle down that advantage for their rivals. They made major inroads during the 1980 campaign. According to CBS polls , Jimmy Carter's share of the Jewish vote dropped from 64 percent in 1976 to 44 percent in 1980. The Republican share went up from 34 percent in 1976 to 39 percent in 1980, while 14 percent went to John Anderson, a former Republican running as an independent.
If the Republicans could only combine that 39 percent they had in 1980 with the 14 for Anderson, they would have a majority of the Jewish vote for the first time since President Harry Truman recognized Israel as a sovereign and independent state.
Political loyalties are grounded deeply in history. The older Jewish families in America, including some of the great banking families from Frankfurt-am-Main, in Germany, tended to be and to vote Republican. But they are a small percentage of the Jewish community. In 1879 there were an estimated quarter of a million Jews in the United States. By 1914 the number had gone up to 31/2 million.
The increase from 1879 to 1914 was largely due to a series of vicious anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia. The first big one was in 1881 after the assassination of Czar Alexander II. The second, and probably the most vicious, was in 1905. There were many others between 1881 and 1914.
The majority of those Jews who fled to America from persecution in Russia came in by way of Ellis Island and New York City. They were poor. They were befriended by Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party organization in New York City. Their ties to the Democratic Party were forged by many a basket of food and a scuttle of coal.
Those ties were reinforced by Truman's instant recognition of Israel, an action opposed at the time by the State Department. It takes time, inducements, and provocations to weaken ties forged as those were.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is the top political leader of the black community. Walter Mondale must have the new black voters, to have a chance of winning. Mr. Jackson was reluctant to repudiate Mr. Farrakhan, who appeals to and reflects the prejudices of some black voters. Mr. Jackson did repudiate the views, but not the man.
Question: Can the Democrats in 1984 gain the new black voters without losing the Jewish voters and Jewish campaign contributions?
So far as I know the Republicans did not invent Mr. Farrakhan. To Republicans he was manna from a politician's heaven.