Both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump spoke at AIPAC’s conference yesterday, and they put on the typical pandering display one expects from candidates that attend the meeting. Trump made a point of saying near the start of his speech that “I didn’t come here tonight to pander to you about Israel,” and then spent the rest of his speech doing exactly that. One will search in vain for significant differences between Cruz and Trump in their obsessive anti-Iranian rhetoric. Clinton also joined in with her own hard-line speech designed to underscore her reputation for hawkishness.
Despite the best efforts of Cruz and Rubio to portray Trump as “anti-Israel” because of his statement that he would approach peace talks as a “neutral guy,” that didn’t reflect Trump’s overall view of the U.S.-Israel relationship. In his speech, Trump offered the usual promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem that almost every Republican candidate has made for years, and invoked the “absolutely, totally unbreakable” between Israel and the U.S. He said everything that an AIPAC audience would want to hear and then some.
Trump’s demagogic opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran tells us much more about how he understands what it means to be “pro-Israel.” Trump said that his “number-one priority” will be to “dismantle” the nuclear deal. He normally denounces the deal, but doesn’t always go so far as to say that he will renege on it. Here it was absolutely clear that his position on this is not really any different than Cruz’s or any other Iran hawk’s. That should have been obvious ever since he appeared with Cruz at an anti-deal rally last fall, but now it’s impossible to miss.
Cruz dug deep into his knowledge of history to conclude that the nuclear deal was the equivalent of appeasement as Munich in 1938. There’s not much to say about this except that it is irresponsibly alarmist and staggeringly ignorant, so it is consistent with most of the arguments against the nuclear deal over the last two years. Likening a nonproliferation agreement that restricts a nuclear program to conceding territory to a revisionist regime is as wrong as one can possibly be. Cruz also dinged Trump for referring to Palestine by saying that “Palestine hasn’t existed since 1948,” which is the sort of dumb talking point that an ideologue like Cruz thinks is very clever. Cruz also reaffirmed his commitment to be one-sided in favor of Israel and against the Palestinians, and I don’t doubt that he meant it.
The content of the Cruz and Trump speeches wasn’t new or interesting, but it does reconfirm that both are thoroughly conventional “pro-Israel” politicians with all of the baggage that entails.