As the presidential candidate of the newly created Progressive Party, Henry Wallace addresses a gathering of followers at a picnic at Asbury Park, New Jersey, July 18, 1948. (AP Photo/Jacob Harris)

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When Middle East Politics (Almost) Tipped an American Presidential Election 

I already knew that in 1948, Harry Truman moved quickly to recognize the state of Israel. And that in same year, Truman’s former Commerce Secretary Henry Wallace challenged him with a third-party presidential bid.

But until I was researching Tuesday’s newsletter (about the “short history of Democratic pre-election bed-wetting”), I didn’t realize how those two historical events collided and almost changed the course of history.

Before I go on, here’s what’s leading the Washington Monthly website:

I was re-reading Truman biographies, refreshing my memory of when prominent liberals called for Truman to bow out of the 1948 race and for General Dwight Eisenhower to run in his place.

That happened in April 1948, one month before Truman memorably recognized Israel, but one month after Truman’s State Department less memorably backed away from a plan to establish a Jewish state.

The resulting backlash from the seeming abandonment of the Jewish cause led to a huge drop in support for Truman in April polls.

Meanwhile Wallace, a staunch supporter of Zionism, was running hard to win over Jews in New York, which offered the biggest haul of Electoral College votes. Few thought Wallace could win New York, but he could play spoiler and tip the state to the Republicans. Democratic panic went off the charts.

Does any of that seem familiar today? Instead of fears of Truman losing Jewish support in New York, today Democrats fear Joe Biden is losing Arab and Muslim support in Michigan.

Does the story of 1948 suggest Democrats have reason to panic, or reason to remain calm? To find out, you’ll have to click here and read to the end!

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Bill Scher is political writer at the Washington Monthly. He is the host of the history podcast When America Worked and the cohost of the bipartisan online show and podcast The DMZ. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillScher.