On Point

On-Script Trump Clears Low Bar at AIPAC

Trump had a lot to lose on Monday. But by deploying a teleprompter, a device the famously improvisational man has mocked, he at least managed to avoid directly insulting the pro-Israel crowd at the annual AIPAC conference.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

It turns out Donald Trump can give a speech before a Jewish audience without insulting the crowd. All he needed was a teleprompter.

Trump managed not to get booed before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Monday evening by sticking closely to a script of prepared remarks — but not without weaving in a mix of lies, exaggerations and flip-flops at his nearly half-hour speech at Washington’s Verizon Center.

It was a rare move for the billionaire businessman: his campaign even published prepared remarks for the famously ad hoc showman. By sticking to the script, he managed to avoid a repeat of his appearance before the Republican Jewish Coalition in December — in fact, he did not refer to even one anti-Semitic trope! In return he got a supportive crowd, one that even closed out his remarks with a standing ovation.

He was still Trump, of course, so the script included a series of untruths and half-truths, all rolled in together with a dash of signature braggadocio. He bragged that he had studied the Iran deal "greater, by far, than anybody else" — a clear delusion, since he has shown an evident lack of knowledge on U.S.-Israeli relations. The statement was enough for the crowd of thousands to start laughing — apparently at the gall he had to make this assertion — and he smirked in response.

Then he tried to paint himself as a hero for leading a pro-Israel parade in New York City- a dangerous task at the time, he said.

“In spring of 2004, at the height of the violence in the Gaza Strip, I was the grand marshal of the 40th Salute to Israel Parade [in Manhattan], the largest single gathering in support of the Jewish state,” Trump told the crowd. “It was a very dangerous time for Israel and frankly for anyone supporting Israel. Many people turned down this honor. I did not. I took the risk, and I'm glad I did.”

While Trump has lately attempted to turn his participation as grand marshal into a qualification of extraordinary moral courage, his role was a purely symbolic one with very little, if any, existential threat to him. (Previous marshals have included a 13-year-old girl.)

Then, boasting about how he was going to be president, he said: "We are leading in every poll. Remember that, please."

Nevermind that in a general-election, head-to-head match-ups with the both Democratic candidates polls show the real-estate mogul losing. Nationally, Trump performs especially poorly among many minority groups, and Jewish Americans have for decades voted overwhelmingly in favor of Democratic presidential contenders.

The dubious statements Trump made was paired with a wild day of flip-flopping on issues related to Israel. "When I say something, I mean it,” said the flip-flopping businessman. Not so, if his Monday was any indication.

Hours before his address before the pro-Israel AIPAC crowd, Trump mused about making Israel pay more for the military assistance America provides it. In a press conference, he was asked about his criticism of foreign aid to economically developed countries that may be able to defend themselves, such as Germany, Japan and South Korea, and asked whether that applies to Israel, as well.

"I think Israel will do that also, yeah. I think Israel will do — there are many countries that can pay, and they can pay big league,” Trump said. “Every time North Korea raises its head, they do anything, they sneeze, we start sending the ships, the planes [to help South Korea] — we don't get proper reimbursement for that."

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Just minutes later, Trump reversed himself, saying that aid should be sent to Israel because "they help us greatly."

His confused Israel policy continued to the issue of whether he would be neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something he has previously said he wanted to be neutral in. In a jumbled word salad, Trump switched his positions three times in as many sentences.

"I would love to be neutral if it's possible. It's probably not possible because there's so much hatred... I am very pro-Israel. I've always been pro-Israel. I have many awards from Israel, many, many awards. I've contributed a lot of money to Israel. There's nobody more pro-Israel than I am. We have to protect Israel. Israel is so important to us," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Planned protests in response to Trump’s address were a dud — progressive rabbis and attendees of the AIPAC conference had said they would participate in a series of walkouts. But only a small number of people headed to the exits when Trump took the stage. From the press box, high in the nosebleed section of the Verizon Center, no disruptions of Trump’s speech could be heard.

Conference organizers had hoped that Trump’s controversial appearance would not cause a ruckus inside the venue, and it appears that they got their wish. As protests neared, the conference jumbotron urged attendees not to disrupt the event. "Please Be Nice: Treat all speakers and fellow delegates with respect. It's our tradition,” the message read.

The protest outside was similarly understated, nothing like eclectic, large turnout of mass protest that some had feared would rally outside the conference. Several police officers surrounding the venue said that they were expecting a much larger turnout.

By the time Trump began speaking in the early evening, there was still a huddle of dozens of protesters next to a Metro Center entrance under the sports and entertainment arena. The demonstration was an not-entirely-coherent fusion between the pro-Palestinian, “anti-Israeli-Apartheid” crowd (a small fixture at the annual AIPAC policy conference) and the emphatically #DumpTrump contingent.

The crowd was dominated by an anti-war Code Pink presence that managed to work in related chants such as, “Trump is the 1%!” or “We LOVE Islam” (referencing Trump’s denunciation of the Muslim faith).

The usual “Trump = Nazi” placards were present, among the “boycott Israel” posters, and the more occasional “WHITES AGAINST TRUMP” signs. Anna and Scott, a “pro-Israel, anti-Trump” married couple, had brought their small children along to the protest to support a group of rabbis that had pledged to stage a walk-out of Trump’s speech.

“[Trump] does not deserve our attention,” Rabbi Menachem Creditor told The Daily Beast, immediately following his walk-out with the “Come Together Against Hate” group. “Anyone attacking one group is willing to attack any group.”

The rabbi stated that the Republican presidential frontrunner and “hate-monger” was running contra to Jewish, as well as American and democratic, values, and that dozens of other rabbis joined him in the Green Turtle Bar and Restaurant in the Verizon Center to wait out Trump’s remarks.

As usual, bearing with Trump’s speech required those who chose to listen to suspend their typical requirements for consistency.

He started out his address by telling the audience, "I didn't come to you tonight to pander to you about Israel. That's what politicians do — all talk, no action, believe me."

But by the end - it was the same old Trump.

"I've been with Israel so long," he said. "My daughter Ivanka is about to have a beautiful Jewish baby."