AIPAC: Grading the 2016 Candidates

Donald Trump speaks at a press conference at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC on March 21, 2016 before speaking to AIPAC

Each of the remaining presidential candidates delivered an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference on Monday. And each, in their own way, did well.

Donald Trump benefited most of all, as he was expected to face protests, and faced doubts about his ability to deliver a detailed policy speech. He gave a stirring, comprehensive address that won standing ovations. Here are his, and his rivals’, overall grades at AIPAC.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R): A. The Ohio governor is often pigeonholed as — well, as the governor of Ohio. But he proved his foreign policy knowledge on Monday evening, recounting his history of fighting for Israel in Congress and the Ohio Statehouse. On substance, Kasich offered one of the best speeches of the evening. Partly, he succeeded by beating low expectations, which had been stoked by lackluster debate performances. But he did well, regardless.

Donald J. Trump (R): A-. Trump’s speech will be the story of the night, because the media, and his rivals, had set expectations so low. He prepared accordingly, using a teleprompter for the first time and deviating only occasionally from his text. He also clarified his stance on “neutrality” in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, making clear that he saw Israel as the aggrieved party. One small but significant problem: he referred to “Palestine” rather than “Palestinians.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX): B+. A thorough, heartfelt, competent speech — and one that he has delivered before, many times. There were a few new flourishes — he dinged Trump from the outset for the term “Palestine,” for example — but he was basically repeating a stump speech to pro-Israel groups, and the energy in the room seemed (from afar, anyway) to sag. He reminded pro-Israel voters that they can trust him, but he probably needed to do a bit more.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D): B+. Clinton regards AIPAC as a home crowd, even though she has disappointed the organization on several occasions — in the dust-up over apartments in Jerusalem in 2010, and more recently in her support of the Iran deal. Her speech hit all the right notes in terms of pro-Israel sentiment, but did less to explain problems in her record. And in pandering to Jewish voters, she mispronounced the word “Purim.”


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