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Will Trump Suffer Politically For His Israel Comments?
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Will Trump Suffer Politically For His Israel Comments?

Not in a Republican primary, if past is prologue.

Former President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu on March 25, 2019, in Washington. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Happy Friday! We don’t have anything nice to say about Mike’s Atlanta Braves losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in last night’s playoff series, so we won’t say anything at all.

Up to Speed

  • We were much too optimistic in our Wednesday headline. While the House Republican conference did make a choice for speaker, their designee, Rep. Steve Scalise, announced Thursday he was dropping out of the race. Scalise’s in-conference victory over Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio was closer than expected and reflected a lack of consensus with his colleagues. When it became clear that a large number of GOP members would not back Scalise in a floor vote, the Louisiana Republican ripped the Band-aid off.
  • So who will get the gavel? Jordan, who had publicly backed Scalise after losing in the conference, threw his hat back in the ring. But it’s hard to see how the strident founder of the far-right House Freedom Caucus will have more consensus support than Scalise did. There are rumblings that Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California could try to mount a comeback effort, or even that the speaker pro tem, Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, could be a plausible consensus alternative. And on Friday, Georgia Rep. Austin Scott filed to run for speaker against Jordan.
  • What seems far less likely is that some Democrats could join with some Republicans to form a majority coalition to elect a “unity” speaker. Less likely, that is, until it isn’t. The frustration from Republican members from all wings of the conference on their inability to coalesce around a speaker might have some members from the center-right looking for an exit strategy with Democratic help. Axios reports those conversations are beginning, but there’s no evidence a critical mass of Republicans are ready to give up on their majority rule and keep it in the GOP family.
  • On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard final oral arguments in the racial gerrymandering case out of South Carolina, Alexander v. South Carolina Conference of the NAACP. Most analyses suggest the Republican-appointed majority did not sound convinced that two congressional districts in the state were unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering, as a lower court had found. The new map adopted in 2021 made both a red district along the South Carolina coast more Republican, and a blue, majority-black district more Democratic. The Supreme Court’s decision will determine whether South Carolina will need to redraw its congressional map.

Another Trump Controversy, the Same Likely Outcome

Somewhere, in some dimly lit, dusty corner of the Republican Party opposed to Donald Trump, some voter, activist, or elected official imagined the former president finally crossed a political red line when he complimented Hezbollah as “very smart” during a campaign rally and blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a barbaric terrorist attack that left more than 1,200 Israelis dead.

“He was not prepared,” Trump also said, in an interview with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, referring to Jerusalem’s failure to anticipate an October 7 strike in which hundreds of Hamas terrorists invaded southern Israel and deliberately targeted and murdered civilians. “Thousands of people knew about it but they let this slip by.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was first among Trump’s competitors for the Republican presidential nomination to issue a stern condemnation. “Terrorists have murdered at least 1,200 Israelis and 22 Americans and are holding more hostage, so it is absurd that anyone, much less someone running for President, would choose now to attack our friend and ally, Israel,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter. “As President, I will stand with Israel and treat terrorists like the scum that they are.” 

Other Republican contenders expressed similar outrage, including North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum; former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; former Vice President Mike Pence; and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. Joining them were conservative activists either supportive of, or sympathetic to, Trump’s various primary opponents. 

But institutionally, the Republican Party has been silent. 

Even if it weren’t, there is zero indication GOP voters are poised to abandon Trump—the overwhelming frontrunner in the race to earn the right to challenge President Joe Biden—over this latest cut against party orthodoxy. Support for Israel is virtually sacrosanct in the Republican Party, almost on par with opposition to abortion rights and upholding the Second Amendment.

Perhaps that’s because as president, Trump’s record of support for Israel was undisputed. His administration negotiated historic peace accords with Jerusalem’s Arab neighbors and assiduously deterred Iran. But Trump and his supporters seemed to suggest they were at least somewhat worried about political blowback. Some of the former president’s allies went about justifying his comments, others went about attempting to explain why what Trump really said wasn’t what Trump really said. The 45th president’s campaign, meanwhile, said his comments were directed at President Joe Biden. 

“President Trump was clearly pointing out how incompetent Biden and his administration were,” the Trump campaign said, adding: “Smart does not equal good.” Vivek Ramaswamy, the wealthy biotech entrepreneur and Trump’s occasional ally in the GOP presidential primary, also defended the former president while suggesting candidates critical of him aren’t prioritizing American interests.

“It’s laughable they’re going after Trump for ‘saying the wrong thing’ when he actually did more for U.S.-Israel relations than any other U.S. president in modern history,” Ramaswamy said in a statement provided to The Dispatch. “Every single Republican presidential candidate is clearly pro-Israel. The real divide is between those of us who are clearly pro-America and there are really only two America-first candidates in this race.”

In the end, the kerfuffle over Trump’s criticism of Netanyahu and description of Palestinian terrorist groups as “smart” is likely to end the same as every other controversy that the former president has weathered without losing his perch atop the GOP. Never Trump Republicans, and Republicans exhausted by Trump’s reign and pining for fresh leadership, should be used to this by now. 

“It’s an unforced error for sure,” a veteran Republican pollster said, of the former president’s comments. “But I doubt it has any impact.”

Notable and Quotable

“I hope so.”

—Rep. Jim Jordan, to Punchbowl News, when asked if he has the required 217 votes to become speaker, October 13, 2023

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.