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Ralph Reed: Report from AIPAC

Yesterday, I addressed AIPAC in Washington as part of a political panel that included Democratic strategists Paul Begala and Mark Mellman, and Republican strategist Dan Senor.  Without going into a lot of detail on that panel, I suggested that unless the Republican presidential race becomes a binary choice soon—a prospect that seems unlikely as both Ted Cruz and John Kasich have vowed to remain in the race all the way to the California primary on June 7—Donald Trump has a better than 50 percent chance of emerging as the Republican presidential nominee.  It is entirely possible arithmetically, especially if Cruz and Kasich combine for some victories in winner-take-all or winner-take-most states like Wisconsin and Utah—-for Trump to arrive in Cleveland short of the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination.  But some analyses show him reaching around 1190 delegates if one extrapolates his support so far and does a retrogression analysis on how the undecided vote and former Rubio voters will fall in subsequent primaries.  Both I and Faith & Freedom Coalition remain strictly neutral in the primary, and we have acted as honest brokers in hosting candidate forums for people of faith that have been attended by all 17 of the current or former GOP presidential candidates. Last evening I joined AIPAC for addresses to over 18,000 people packed into Verizon Arena in Washington by Kasich, Trump, and Cruz.  They all did extremely well and received warm welcomes and boisterous ovations from the crowd.  Kasich’s remarks were the most personal and evocative, mentioning his long personal friendship with one of the original founding members of AIPAC, and how that friendship guided him in his love for Israel and the Jewish people.  He stated his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear agreement should he become president.  He stated his intention to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Kasich stressed his longstanding pro-Israel bona fides, including his service on the House Armed Services  and Budget committees in the 1980s and 1990s, where he helped guide the early Congressional support and funding for what would become the Iron Dome anti-missile system in Israel.  He closed with an appeal for national unity and bipartisanship, promising to maintain a positive message in his campaign and vowing, “I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land.”  This was a message tailor-made for the bipartisan ranks of AIPAC, and it resonated well. Donald Trump had some repair work to do with this crowd and he clearly knew it.  Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier in the day, attacked Trump for previously stating he would be a neutral party in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  Using a prepared text, Trump attacked the Iran nuclear deal in great detail and said that if he became president he would end Israel’s status as a second-class citizen in the counsels of the U.S. government.  He also said he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel.  He sharply criticized schools in Palistinean territory for teaching   hatred and anti-Semitism.  Adding a personal note, he said, “My daughter Ivanka is about to have beautiful Jewish baby.”  An AIPAC activist next to me applauded and said, “Hard to beat that!”  While there had been much talk of a walkout, I only saw one protestor removed from the arena, and the overwhelming number of delegates received Trump respectfully and even enthusiastically.  By departing from his usual extemporaneous rally performance, Trump showed a capacity to grow as a candidate and deliver substantive policy remarks, and he was rewarded with both a good reception and generally positive news coverage. Ted Cruz closed out the program with a tour de force in which he demonstrated his characteristic grasp of both the policy and politics of Israeli-U.S. relations.  He mentioned the murder of Taylor Force, a West Point graduate and U.S. Army veteran who was stabbed to death in a terror attack in Tel Aviv by a crazed Palestinian terrorist on March 8.  He vowed to shred the nuclear agreement with Iran on his first day in office.  He criticized the Obama administration for its bias against Israel, including issuing a travel advisory that had the effect of discouraging commercial travel to Tel Aviv during recent rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza.  After Cruz demanded to know if the Obama administration was encouraging an economic boycott of Israel, the State Department changed its advisory.  Addressing the diplomatic initiative of the Palestinian Authority to seek the declaration of its statehood by the United Nations. Cruz promised to fly to New York personally to cast the U.S. veto. It was an exciting evening for all who were present, and leading cable news networks carried the speeches live.  Of arguably equal importance to the crowd at Verizon Arena were the millions of evangelical voters who were also following what the candidates said regarding U.S. support for Israel.  They had reason to be pleased by what they heard.

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