Donald Trump Attacked Israel, and the GOP Has Responded- Wednesday night marked a noticeable shift in Republican focus on the conflict in Israel.
In the immediate aftermath of Hamas’ attack on Israel, Republicans criticized President Joe Biden for perceived weakness and errors which led to the violence. That changed, perhaps unsurprisingly, following former president Donald Trump’s speech near his Mar-a-Lago home.
Addressing a crowd of supporters, the Republican frontrunner said Israel had to “straighten it out because they’re fighting, potentially a very big force.” He labeled Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant a “jerk” while repeatedly describing Hezbollah, the militant Islamist group in Lebanon, as “very smart.”
“I’ll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down,” Trump said, referring to the U.S. drone strike which killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani in January 2020 which he claimed Israel pulled out of at the last minute. “That was a very terrible thing.”
Trump waded in further on Prime Minister Netanyahu on Thursday, saying he was “not very prepared” for a potential Hamas attack. His remarks prompted quick criticism from Republican rivals.
Rivals Wade In
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who trails Trump by more than 30 points in the poll, slammed the former president shortly after his remarks.
“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, much less praise Hezbollah terrorists,” wrote Gov. DeSantis on social media. A spokesperson for the Republican candidate added that Trump’s remarks were “disturbing and disqualifying.”
His once-ally and former vice president Mike Pence also addressed his ex-superior’s comments in a radio interview on Thursday. “Hezbollah aren’t smart, they’re evil,” said Pence. “But the former president also said when Russia invaded Ukraine in a similar, unprovoked, unconscionable invasion a year-and-a-half ago, he said Vladimir Putin was a genius.”
Trump’s “shameful” comments drew the attention of Israeli communications minister Shlomo Karhi, who said: “A former US president abets propaganda and disseminates things that wound the spirit of Israel’s fighters and its citizens. We don’t have to bother with him and the nonsense he spouts.”
Others Face Difficulty
Gov. DeSantis himself faced a challenge on Thursday, when a voter asked why he was not expressing sympathy for Palestinian civilians killed in the conflict. “They [Israel] are not decapitating babies’ heads,” he responded. “They are not intentionally doing that.” It was a comment for which the New Hampshire voter told DeSantis he had lost his support.
Pro-Trump businessman Vivek Ramaswamy was also caught in hot water, accusing Republicans for engaging in “selective moral outrage” based on campaign donors. “It is shameful. And I think that there are, frankly, financial, and corrupting influences that lead them exactly to speak the way they do, that’s just the hard truth,” Ramaswamy said, prompting a social media back-and-forth with Republican congressman Dan Crenshaw of Texas, who called the outsider a “Hamas apologist” and a “clown.”
The conflict in Israel and all the heinous atrocities reported so far create a new dynamic in the run-up to next year’s presidential election. If any candidate wants to win, they must watch their words carefully.
Shay Bottomley is a British journalist based in Canada. He has written for the Western Standard, Maidenhead Advertiser, Slough Express, Windsor Express, Berkshire Live and Southend Echo, and has covered notable events including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.