Taking the stage Monday night at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Republican presidential candidate declared his favorite refrain: "There is no one who is a greater supporter of Israel than me!" Before the 18,000 AIPAC delegates packed into Washington's Verizon Center Trump delivered a much anticipated address intended to quiet troubled Jewish waters stirred by Trump's own serial slips of the tongue, ill-conceived random policy asides, and off-the-cuff borderline anti-Semitic tropes. To the surprise of most informed observers of AIPAC events he received a politely warm reception in spite of his past stumbles.
I wonder if Trump would have been accorded the collective one-hand clap if his AIPAC audience knew he had just declared his intention to substantially reduce America's commitment to NATO. Doubtful, given NATO's importance to Israel's military. Why would Trump hand Mr. Putin such a brass ring?? Only Trump knows.
Yet, for the first time in the history of 2016 Trump TV the master barker delivered a teleprompter-fed speech. It was vintage Trump -- part vainglorious, part extemporaneous, with a welcome dose of rip and read substance largely focused on the evilness that Iran poses to Israel and the rest of the world. Trump knew he was standing before an informed jury that would not stand for his usual hijinks.
But compared to a far more eloquent and knowledgeable John Kasich who stole the show at AIPAC's GOP afternoon of speakers, Trump was just praying for a pass/fail. Judging by his reception Trump managed to pass (if barely), but to pass he had to do his homework.
Until his AIPAC appearance, Trump showcased his support for Israel via vacuous platitudes: 1) one of his daughters is a convert to Judaism; 2) he was the Grand Marshal in the Israel Day parade in New York; and 3) some of his closest friends are Jews (any self-respecting Jew knows what that means); and 4) he has "won so many awards from Israel." These sappy salutations are red flags to any self-respecting supporter of Israel - Republican, Democrat or Independent. So Trump came to conquer his past.
He put on his best pander to place his flip-flops behind him.
-- At a Republic Jewish Coalition December gathering Trump refused to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but in the same breath promised to move the U.S. embassy currently in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Tonight, he vowed to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital AND move Embassy Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
-- Diving into the deep end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump had inexplicably declared his intention to be "neutral." After taking heat in recent weeks, he then danced around that assertion so often that no one, least of all Trump, knew exactly what he meant by it. Nevertheless, it habitually sounded grandiose to the pompous Trump because it involved grand deals. However, "neutral" to any Israeli is code for "anti-Israel." Tonight, Trump so demonized the Palestinian Authority that any fear among AIPAC attendees that he could ever be considered "neutral" evaporated into thin air. So much for the art of the deal.
During a previous Republican debate Marco Rubio correctly derided Trump's utter lack of knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when he turned to Trump and shouted "... this is not a real estate transaction!" Well, in reality, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a real estate conflict, but not the type of real estate deal that Trump could remotely fathom, much less serve as the lead negotiator.
Just before his AIPAC address, Trump released the names of his foreign policy advisers. That, too, is an important step in the right direction, so to speak. They are credible, if not well-known advisers. Presumably, those advisers had a hand in his AIPAC address, but probably not in his off-the-cuff NATO remarks to CNN.
God have mercy on whoever would have the courage to be his secretary of state.
It's not that Trump is just dangerously ignorant about foreign policy. It's that his witlessness is lathered with an unprecedented degree of narcissistic prejudice and unbalanced hubris. Halfway through his Iran litany he declared that "no one knows the Iran nuclear deal better than me!" Oh, really? Read it cover to cover, Mr. Trump? I bet you 725 Fifth Avenue you didn't.
Putting his serial bravado aside, there was nothing in his speech that rose to the level of yet another Trump-created fact. Congratulations! For that alone Mr. Trump deserves a fist bump...so much progress in such small doses.
Americans Jews, who much like the American electorate, have had ample opportunity to watch Trump on the stump. Regrettably, there are no polls I am aware of that have specifically measured American Jewish views of Trump. The widespread view I derived from a survey I undertook of progressive and conservative Jewish American media is that across the Jewish political spectrum they harbor deep doubts about Trump's fitness to serve as a stable Commander-in-Chief, or as a unifying, thoughtful, reflective president.
Even those, like myself, who believe Israel's long term security is served by attaining an eventual two state solution, find Trump's sloganeering just more self-serving chutzpah.
Israel aside, Trump has touched a third rail among most Jewish Americans. He has trafficked in Jewish stereotypes. He was shamed into distancing himself from David Duke, the former Klu Klux Klan Grand Wizard. He courts white supremacists and denigrates Latinos. And as much as Trump may dislike the Muslim world, Jewish Americans will never condone religious discrimination. We know all too well that to vanquish ISIS, America needs Arab support. We know also, all too well, that America's Muslim population is patriotic and just as determined to rid the world of Islamic radical terrorism as any American. Trump is too prejudiced a person to appreciate these facts.
Mr. Trump has much work to do to repair the damage his brand has incurred among America's Jews. The vast majority of Jewish Americans are not about to give him a pass merely because he derided the Ayatollah and the Palestinian Authority. His AIPAC speech may have satisfied his acolytes, but the American Jewish community is not going to be swayed to vote Republican, much less for Mr. Trump, merely because he disciplined himself to read a red-meat speech. Trump surely knows that over 70% of American Jews vote Democratic - which is why Mrs. Clinton received such a warm reception for her adroit, thoughtful AIPAC address earlier in the day.
So let's be clear here, Trump was not speaking so much to AIPAC at large as much as he was speaking to potential Republican Jewish donors, such as Sheldon Adelson, whom he will need to finance his general election campaign should he secure the Republican Party nomination in Cleveland. No self-funder will he be after Cleveland. You can take that to the bank.
That was, for Mr. Trump, the art in that spiel.