If 2016 is the year of the political outsider, then Phil Rosenthal, the Republican fighting to make his voice heard in New York's 10th congressional district, might be the most "outsider" candidate of all.
Rosenthal, who has never held public office before, is taking on one of the most entrenched political figures on Capitol Hill: Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Democrat who has represented New York in Washington, D.C. since 1992.
Most pundits already think Democrats' hopes of recapturing the House are quixotic. A Rosenthal victory over Nadler would probably end them all together.
Rosenthal's singular candidacy begins with his remarkable resume. He graduated summa cum laude from Yale and then went on to Caltech and earned a Ph.D. in physics, specializing in string theory and cosmology.
If he wins a seat in the House of Representatives, he would instantly become the GOP's leading authority on the science behind the Iran deal.
Of course, a lot of Republican candidates decry the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran. But people tend to listen more carefully when Rosenthal voices an opinion.
"In some ways it's too easy to build a bomb, at least in principle," the Republican told Newsmax, although he added the engineering required is "very difficult."
That said, he noted President Barack Obama himself has stated Iran's breakout time to attain a nuclear weapon by the time the deal expires "would have shrunk almost down to zero." You do not have to listen to him to understand why it's a bad deal, Rosenthal said. Just study the statements coming from the administration.
Earning a Ph.D. from Caltech apparently did not quench Rosenthal's thirst for knowledge. With the United States scaling back its basic research in particle physics, Rosenthal opted to attend Harvard Law School, where he earned a degree magna cum laude.
Armed with those twin diplomas, Rosenthal went to work for the D.C.-based international firm of Covington & Burling. There, he specialized in patent, nuclear, and telecommunications law.
But in 1999, he saw a need for an online research tool lawyers could use to review relevant case law. That year he co-founded Fastcase, a company that provides attorneys powerful digital tools to help their clients.
What triggered Rosenthal's decision to toss his hat in the ring and challenge Nadler, he said, was the incumbent's endorsement of the Iran nuclear deal.
Nadler has admitted receiving significant pushback from constituents.
In a message posted on his website, Nadler said: "My conclusion is that this deal – of the available alternatives to us, not what might or should have been – is the best."
The news from Iran has been all bad since the controversial deal was signed. The mullahs continue to test ballistic missiles, despite a UN resolution calling on it to desist.
The administration's side deals, and the more than $1.7 billion apparently paid to Iran in cash to win the release of American hostages, have become a major embarrassment.
As for the hopes the deal would modify Iran's behavior, if anything, the regime appears to have grown more aggressive.
During a recent military parade in Tehran, Reuters reported, a truck hauling a mobile ballistic missile displayed a banner that declared: "If the leaders of the Zionist regime make a mistake, then the Islamic Republic will turn Tel Aviv and Haifa to dust."
Those developments are especially disturbing to the residents of New York's 10th CD, which ranges from the southern portion of Morningside Heights, to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, out to the west side of Midtown Manhattan, then down to Greenwich Village. It also includes Brooklyn's Borough Park, and the Financial District, where the painful memory of 9/11 remains all too vivid.
"It's incomprehensible to me," Rosenthal told Newsmax. "I can't imagine why Nadler, who represents, by the way, the most Jewish district in America – the district that contains Ground Zero – if there's any representative who should have been leading the charge against the Iran deal, it should have been ours."
"When I heard he did that," Rosenthal added, "I said, 'We have to hold him accountable, and show that constituents do matter, people do matter, and you can't get away with doing something like this.'"
Rosenthal, a staunch supporter of Israel, concedes as a freshman member of Congress he could not "unscramble the Iran deal completely," adding, "the money we have released is not coming back."
But he offers a host of ideas about how to limit the damage, including:
- "Very strong" sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile activity.
- Greater support for Israel, which has become a testing ground for U.S. anti-missile technology.
- He also supports providing Israel with the latest bunker-busting weapons that can penetrate deep enough to destroy hardened Iranian facilities below ground.
- The United States, he said, needs to deploy an anti-ICBM missile shield on the East Coast.
"We have to be prepared for a time when we might need that missile defense," Rosenthal said. "I shudder to think that, but these policies have consequences."
Rosenthal concedes he faces an uphill battle to gain name recognition, and to raise funds, in a battle in liberal Manhattan against a longtime incumbent like Nadler.
But he believes defeating Nadler could send a message around the country – and indeed the world – "conservative principles are alive and well in the heart of New York City, and it's possible to actually think about a Republican winning this district."
He added: "A victory here would really change the narrative completely from 'Oh well, we think that the Republican Party and conservatives are slipping and the whole map is changing.'
"It would change that narrative to, 'Yes the map is changing – but in a very surprising way in the other direction.'"
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