Republican frontrunner calls for establishment support as candidates try to woo pro-Israel organisation
Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has demanded that his party’s sceptical establishment embrace the inevitability of his presidential nomination, while storming into Washington for meetings and giving a speech to a pro-Israel advocacy organisation.
“If people want to be smart, they should embrace this movement,” Trump declared yesterday at a news conference, shrugging off passionate resistance to his candidacy from both parties.” I’m an outsider,” Trump said. “They’re not used to this.”
Trump was again followed by protests, and a group of rabbis said they were boycotting his speech.
Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton also addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference, questioning Trump’s readiness to guide the nation through international entanglements.
“We need steady hands,” Clinton said. “Not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who-knows-what on Wednesday because everything’s negotiable.”
Israel’s security, she proclaimed, “is non-negotiable”.
Trump sparked criticism from Republicans as well as Democrats earlier in the year when he pledged to be “sort of a neutral guy” on Israel. While the United States is officially neutral in the Middle East conflict, his statement marked a rhetorical departure for US presidential candidates.
Trump yesterday promised there would be “no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel” in his administration. But he also repeatedly referred to “Palestine” instead of the “Palestinian territories”, using a term many pro-Israel activists oppose.
Rival candidate Texas Senator Ted Cruz, following him at the conference, jabbed Trump for that reference, saying Palestine “hasn’t existed since 1948”.
Today, Clinton is expected to extend her overwhelming delegate lead over rival Bernie Sanders in primary contests in Arizona, Utah and Idaho. On the Republican side, Trump’s remaining rivals – Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich – are fighting in Arizona and Utah to stop him from building an insurmountable lead as well.
Trump also huddled in Washington yesterday for a closed-door meeting with about two dozen Republican officials, many of them supporters.
The New York real estate mogul was using a rare day in Washington to woo a Republican establishment that’s been reluctant to support him. Trump also faces resistance from pro-Israel activists over what they consider a mixed record on the Middle East.
Yesterday, he appeared to break with decades of US precedent on aid to Israel. A reporter noted that Trump, in his rallies, frequently says that affluent countries that accept US aid, like Germany and Japan, should return the funds. He was then asked if that should apply to Israel.
“I think Israel will do that also, yeah,” Trump said, before easing back that statement minutes later.
Besides his comments on Israel, socially liberal American Jews object to his controversial remarks about Mexican immigrants, women and Muslims, with some drawing analogies to the European persecution of Jews that eventually led to the Holocaust.
Clinton drew a similar parallel, referencing a famous incident of a ship with Jewish refugees being turned away from the US in 1939.
“We’ve had dark chapters in our history before,” she said. “America should be better than this, and I believe it’s our responsibility as citizens to say so. If you see bigotry, oppose it.”