WASHINGTON — For months, the US political pundits’ mantra has been that Donald J. Trump could not win the Republican nomination. Now that nobody would dare say that with confidence, the new certainty is that he cannot win the presidency.
But of course he can. As things look to him now, Trump’s worst-case scenario is to find himself one devastating Clinton political skeleton away from the White House.
And addressing AIPAC on Monday, the candidate who has confounded all those pundits by insistently overstaying his welcome is hoping that the sight of 18,000 pro-Israel Americans standing to applaud his best sound bites will help pave his improbable path all the way to the top.
AIPAC ought to have been delighted to play host to the Republican front-runner. He is, after all, the self-styled “most pro-Israel” candidate, the Grand Marshal of the 2004 Israel Day parade in New York with his two Jewish grandchildren. And he’s bidding to succeed a two-term president widely unloved by the AIPAC mainstream for a host of perceived grave missteps, headed by that Tehran-empowering nuclear deal.
He is also, however, the candidate who has shown what the ADL memorably described this weekend as a “penchant to slander minorities, slur refugees, dismiss First Amendment protections and cheer on violence” during his quest for the nomination, and whose campaign “has mainstreamed intolerance.”
As a pro-Israel lobby formally committed to bipartisanship, AIPAC dutifully extended invitations for this policy conference to all the presidential contenders. And to some extent, the fact that Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Hillary Clinton all said yes must have come as something of a relief.
Battling alongside Benjamin Netanyahu last year to try to thwart Obama’s Iran deal, AIPAC doubtless dismayed all those anti-Semites who believe that the Jews control America by losing ignominiously. A record-breaking 18,000-strong conference, so large that its main events this year have outgrown the Washington Convention Center and are being held in the vast Verizon arena instead, is a useful reassertion of strength. The presence of all those would-be presidents is a vital reassertion of clout.
But Trump is capable of saying the eminently applaudable one minute, and the unthinkable the next. And many in AIPAC are probably wondering, as the hours tick down to his Monday evening address, which will be worse: the GOP front-runner casually extemporizing something so outrageously untenable as to horrify that record crowd, or making such empathetic remarks as to have them on their feet, clapping and cheering, providing all of America with clips of this divisive candidate’s ostensibly warmly supportive Jewish audience. Perhaps Trump will manage both.
Sunday’s AIPAC proceedings were troublingly inconvenienced by pro-Palestinian protesters outside the convention center, an annual irritant that was more serious this year. Trump’s appearance on Monday, however, brings trouble and division within. AIPAC may have had no choice but to invite Trump; but plenty of AIPAC participants are unhappy that he will be here and are looking for respectful ways to make that clear.
It is most certainly not AIPAC’s fault that those American voters who have had a say thus far have made Trump the leading Republican presidential contender. It is also not AIPAC’s fault that the only Jew left in the race, Bernie Sanders, opted to make his excuses and give Washington a wide berth.
And so we find ourselves with the Jew who chose not to be seen with the pro-Israel lobby. And the “most pro-Israel” candidate with whom many in the lobby would much rather not be seen. It’s only the latest implausible moment in this surreal, punditry-defying American election campaign.
And to think that we Israelis used to come to AIPAC thinking that our political battleground was the crazy one.
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