The larger question is whether Donald Trump accomplished what he intended. Will he draw a majority of the Jewish vote? Probably not, but based on the applause at the Verizon Center, even if he only moved the bar among a wider audience from “Trump is the worst ever” to “Trump isn’t as bad as feared,” he’ll have overcome significant resistance as he pushes toward the Republican nomination. A few more points in each upcoming primary can tip the balance in his favor. Some of his statements will increase Leftist opposition, but the more-strident the protests, the more support Trump gains.
By Mitchell Baxter | March 22, 2016
Donald Trump gave the first scripted – and politically mature speech of his presidential campaign on Monday evening, before 18,000 attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, DC.
A few liberal factions had threatened walkouts, drawing reminders from the organizers to show decorum towards all speakers, but if anyone boycotted Trump, no one noticed; there were long entry lines, and no empty seats. Attendance for AIPAC grew so high this year that the general assembly was moved from the Convention Center to the Verizon Center.
Trump entered a mostly-silent sports arena to little applause, but drew increasing support as he spoke, receiving as many as a dozen standing ovations along with loud cheers.
He had several key objectives to meet in this speech to a skeptical audience to: show himself as knowledgeable; clarify his earlier statement about neutrality towards Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; allay fears that he would pressure Israel in a quest to “make a deal;” and, overcome, or at least mute, objections to his candidacy over statements about various minorities.
He wisely avoided his controversial (and perhaps-evolving) policies of restricting Muslims, although he made a point of naming the 9/11 perpetrators as “Islamic fundamentalists.”
Early on, he declared, “I didn’t come to you tonight to pander to you about Israel; that’s what politicians do.” He then pandered a bit, calling himself a “lifelong friend of Israel,” who supplied his personal jet to then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for a solidarity trip to Israel, and who served as Grand Marshal of New York’s Salute to Israel parade in 2004, “a dangerous time for anyone supporting Israel.” He referred to “our strategic ally, our unbreakable friendship, our cultural brother, the only democracy in the Middle East.” He also said “the Jewish state,” at least five times.
In a minor faux pas, Trump referred to “Palestine,” which Ted Cruz subsequently called him out on.
His major themes were the “disastrous” Iran nuclear deal, strong U.S. leadership standing with Israel to foster negotiations, Palestinian violence as the primary obstacle, and Obama’s many failings. And, of course, that he knows deals, because he “wrote the the book.”
The Iran Deal
Trump declared his number-one priority is “to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” as “we’ve rewarded the world’s leading state sponsor of terror with $150 billion and received nothing in return,” adding, the money was “stupidly and foolishly given.” He laid out a three-fold policy of standing up to Iranian aggression aimed at regional dominance, dismantling Iran’s global terror network (“big and powerful, but not like us”), and enforcing the current deal “like you’ve never seen a contract enforced.”
He drew one of his standing ovations by noting that while Iran’s missile tests “don’t violate our horrible deal… they violate UN resolutions. No one has done anything about it. We will… We’re not letting [Iranian missile attacks] happen to us and we’re not letting it happen to Israel!”
U.S. Must Lead and Stand With Israel
Trump called Obama a terrible dealmaker who “pressures friends and rewards enemies,” a pattern practiced over and over by the administration” – and here he went off-script to add “including Hillary, who is a total disaster.”
He drew more standing ovations with “the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on Day One,” and “we will move the embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”
Trump expressed that U.S. leadership was essential and that the U.S. “can be useful as a facilitator in negotiations,” but that we must “send a signal there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally.” His peace-through-strength approach has added resonance on a day when President Obama posed with Castro in Havana, Cuba in front of a Che Guevara monument.
Will Veto UN-Imposed Deal
In a broad appeal to conservatives and nationalists, Trump denounced the “utter weakness and incompetence of the United Nations,” which is “not a friend to democracy… to freedom… even to the U.S… and surely not a friend to Israel.”
As to a proposed Security Council resolution, Trump said, “let me be clear. An agreement imposed by the United Nations would be a complete and total disaster,” vowing to use our veto “100%.”
Palestinian Hatred, Incitement, and Terror
Trump blamed the daily violence on “rampant incitement” and indoctrination – “children being taught to hate the Jews” and “paid to stab Jews,” contrasting societies where children admire firemen and athletes against Palestinian society, where “the heroes are those who murder Jews.”
“There is no moral equivalency,” and “glorifying terrorists is a terrible barrier to peace” should end speculation about his oft-criticized “neutrality.”
He issued a clear policy statement that Palestinian terror, stabbing Israelis and Americans (naming murdered West Pointer Taylor Allen Force) must be confronted, not rewarded.
Israel’s Willingness-Palestinian Intransigence
Emphasizing his own expertise (having written “one of the best-selling books” on deals), Trump said, “to make a great deal, you need two willing participants. We know Israel is willing to deal,” having offered terms that were “maybe too generous,” while the Palestinians have rejected every offer, and even refused to respond to Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework.
He described Hamas as “the Palestinian ISIS,” which “the other half” won’t confront. To reach a settlement, Palestinians must “come to the table willing and able to stop the terror… and to accept that Israel is a Jewish state.”
Trump Being Trump
In his first scripted speech, Trump still couldn’t resist being Trump; he was nothing if not entertaining. Several times, he said, “when I’m president,” and added, “I will be president. We’re leading in every poll – remember that folks.”
After beginning “With President Obama in his final year,” he went off-script to add an emphatic “YAY!” drawing a big laugh and another ovation. Feeding off the energy, Trump pressed on: “He may be the worst thing ever to happen to Israel!”
In keeping with his form, he also frequently said, “Believe me. Believe me.”
Trump’s speech came several hours after he named his foreign-policy team, led by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a conservative with a zero rating from the Arab American Institute.
There’s a question of whether he overcame the earlier dig from John Kasich who said, “I won’t need on-the-job training” as well as Hillary Clinton’s jab, “We can’t be neutral when rockets rain down.”
Trump has clearly been coached and he’s brushed up on the issues. He also clarified his “neutrality” only as a facilitator in negotiations, not on moral issues.
The larger question is whether he accomplished what he intended. Will he draw a majority of the Jewish vote? Probably not, but based on the applause, even if he only moved the bar among a wider audience from “Trump is the worst ever” to “Trump isn’t as bad as feared,” he’ll have overcome significant resistance as he pushes toward the Republican nomination. A few more points in each upcoming primary can tip the balance in his favor; some of his statements will increase Leftist opposition, but the more-strident the protests, the more support Trump gains.
Finally, the question hanging over him all along: “Who is the real Donald Trump?” Was this a transition from the freewheeling, stream-of-consciousness populist whipping up raucous crowds to a more-serious statesman, or was this a trial run, testing out a new act to be mothballed until the GOP convention?
As then-Democrat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi infamously told us about ObamaCare, we may have to wait until after we vote to find out.
Mitchell Baxter is a policy analyst, writer, and attorney. Mr. Baxter is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.