Donald Trump announced Wednesday morning that he planned to skip Monday’s now-canceled Republican debate in favor of attending a pro-Israel conference hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Political scientists say that Trump could likely only stand to gain from eschewing the debate in favor of the speech at AIPAC.
“Why would he want to give his opponents any more air time than he has to?” says Marshall Ganz, senior lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor.
Instead, Trump will be better served by making public statements in controlled environments, such as Sunday morning talk shows, according to Dr. Matthew Baum, professor of global communications and public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School. In such situations, Trump will be able to deliver practiced rhetoric rather than having to face awkward questions.
Monday's speech will give him one such opportunity. But why is speaking to this particular group, an event that Trump says he's been signed up for for some time, so important?
According to Baum, barring some “improbable confluence of events,” Trump will most likely be the Republican nominee. If Trump does indeed become the party’s nominee in July, he must appeal to powerful pro-Israel lobbying groups for the general election.
“An important dividing line between the Democrats and Republicans has been over Israel,” says Baum. “Republicans have been aggressively pro-Israel. It’s a little odd, when you think of Trump, because some of his supporters aren’t necessarily friends of Israel, but he’s clearly making this move with an eye towards the general election.”
Some of the most aggressively pro-Israel advocates are Evangelists. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, himself a supporter of pro-Israel foreign policy, is appealing to that group of people. It would help Trump, if and when he becomes the nominee, to be able to capture those votes.
Yet, according to Dr. Ganz, Trump’s decision to speak before a Jewish lobbying group is "interesting" – he subsequently clarified that he meant "disturbing" – given the reaction segments of the Jewish community have had to his candidacy.
“There’s been quite a protest movement being organized in the community,” says Ganz. “There’s so much reminiscent in Trump’s rhetoric and the character of his rallies that reminds some people of what happened in the 1930s and 40s.”
One organization, the Workmen’s Circle, a 116-year-old progressive Jewish group, has issued a petition calling for AIPAC to rescind its invitation to Trump.
“We know only too well what happens when people call for the exclusion of Hispanics, or Muslims, or Jews,” said Ann Toback, the executive director of the Workmen’s Circle in a phone interview with the Monitor. “As Jews, we need to stand up and say it is wrong for a Jewish organization to be giving a legitimizing platform for somebody who uses hate speech and ethnic exclusion.”
If listeners were to substitute Jew for “Muslim” or “Hispanic” in one of Trump’s speeches, Toback says, they would hear something that sounds horribly wrong, and horribly familiar.
The petition has about 500 signatures. When contacted for a statement about whether or not the organization is considering rescinding its invitation, AIPAC responded, saying that all of the current presidential candidates had been invited.
"As is our longstanding policy during presidential election years, we invited all of the active Democratic and Republican presidential candidates – at this point, Clinton, Trump and Cruz have confirmed their participation," said an AIPAC spokesperson. "The Policy Conference presents a unique opportunity for the candidates from both parties to share their views and discuss, in detail, their policy objectives regarding America’s relationship with Israel and the broader Middle East."