WASHINGTON — The trio of remaining Republican presidential candidates faced the capital’s largest pro-Israel lobbying conference this evening, with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) calling for federal penalties against universities that boycott, divest or sanction Israel and Donald Trump taking a maiden voyage into the realm of teleprompter addresses.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich began the GOP speeches at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference by stressing, “I remain unwavering in my support for the Jewish state and the unique partnership between the United States and Israel.”
“This legacy is not only one I will honor in my administration but will take active steps to strengthen and expand,” he vowed.
Kasich, who touted his foreign policy credentials from 18 years on the House Armed Services Committee, earned one of the largest standing ovations of the night when he promised to suspend the nuclear deal with Iran in response to the Islamic Republic’s recent ballistic missile tests, calling the missile work a “provocation that will no longer be ignored.”
The governor stressed his opposition to the BDS movement and highlighted his concern about “rising attacks on Israel and Jewish students on our college campuses.”
He slammed the Palestinian Authority for promoting a “culture of death,” emphasizing that “indoctrination of hate has long been part of a well thought out strategy.”
And Kasich added some of his well-known stump lines: “We are Americans before we are Republicans or Democrats. We are Americans.”
“I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land — I will not do it.”
As the other candidates would also declare, Kasich said the “eternal capital” of Israel is Jerusalem.
Trump arrived in the arena to light applause, to an audience historically known for reserving their applause instead of booing.
Aided by a rare teleprompter, the GOP frontrunner talked regional politics and threats posed to Israel and the region by Iran.
“I’m a newcomer to politics but not to backing the Jewish state,” Trump said. “…I didn’t come here to pander to you tonight about Israel — that’s what politicians do, all talk no action.”
“My No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran. I have been in business a long time. I know deal-making and let me tell you, this deal is catastrophic — for America, for Israel, and for the whole Middle East,” he said.
When Trump declared to the most powerful lobbying force against the Iran deal “I’ve studied this issue in greater detail than almost anybody,” there were audible chuckles throughout the Verizon Center arena.
And despite the teleprompter script he peppered in some Trumpisms — “I’m leading in every poll,” for one. He also strayed off script when talking about his book The Art of the Deal, disputing the teleprompter calling it “one of the all-time best-selling books about deals and deal making” instead of the best.
“When I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on Day One,” Trump vowed.
As president, he said, he would “adopt a strategy to stand up to Iran’s aggressive push to destabilize and dominate the region.”
“I know how to deal with trouble and, believe me, that’s why I’m going to be elected president folks.”
Trump noted that his daughter Ivanka “is about to have a beautiful Jewish baby.”
Cruz wrapped up the evening’s speeches by beginning with a dig at Trump — whose speech mentioned “Palestine” three times.
“Let me say at the outset, perhaps to the surprise of the previous speaker, Palestine has not existed since 1948,” Cruz said.
He quickly made a pitch for the GOP nomination in front of the officially nonpartisan crowd, declaring he’d first unify the Republican Party, then bring minority voters into the fold and then woo over the Reagan Democrats.
He quipped about the fundraiser Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) held for him on the sidelines of the conference, noting that should “allay any doubts that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can still do miracles.”
“We need a president who will be a champion for America and we need a president who will be a champion for the State of Israel,” Cruz said.
He received standing ovations for lines such as, “Hamas are terrorist monsters using children for human shields.”
“On my first day in office I will rip this catastrophic Iran deal to shreds,” he promised. “On my first day we will reimpose sanctions on Iran.”
The senator also said universities involved in the BDS movement will lose access to federal funding.
“To the extent that they have engaged in illegal behavior they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Cruz added.
Cruz stopped by CNN after AIPAC and commented on Trump’s address: “He clearly hired someone to write that speech for him.”