Today took Donald Trump to terrain where he's seemed less comfortable in the past: he spent the day in Washington, D.C. And he spent most of it talking foreign policy.
His foreign policy agenda this year beyond trade has had a non-interventionist bent, and he emphasized that frame today, again questioning the extent of U.S. involvement in NATO and in addressing the crisis in Ukraine. "Why are we always the one that's leading?" he asked (a line unlikely to endear him to GOP hawks.)
"I do think it’s a different world today, and I don’t think we should be nation-building anymore," Trump said. "I think it’s proven not to work," he said. "...At what point do you say, 'Hey, we have to take care of ourselves?' So, I know the outer world exists and I’ll be very cognizant of that. But at the same time, our country is disintegrating."
Trump revealed some members of his foreign policy brain trust today in a meeting with The Washington Post: Former Army lieutenant general Keith Kellogg, who worked as chief operating officer for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad following the invasion of Iraq; Joe Schmitz, a former Defense Department inspector general under President George W. Bush who also worked for Blackwater Worldwide; George Papadopoulos, a former Ben Carson adviser; Walid Phares, who also advised Mitt Romney's campaign; and Carter Page, a longtime energy industry executive who previously focused on the Caspian Sea region and former Soviet states as a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. (For more on their records, check out Missy Ryan's report.)
Later, he spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference, along with all the remaining presidential candidates except Bernie Sanders, on the trail out West ahead of tomorrow's contests. (Sanders delivered a speech pledging to be "a friend not only to Israel but to the Palestinian people.") Ahead of his speech, Trump found himself in unfamiliar territory for a Republican front-runner: Being criticized -- though not by name -- on Israel policy from the right by his Democratic counterpart. “We need steady hands,” Hillary Clinton told AIPAC Monday morning. “Not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who knows what on Wednesday because everything is negotiable. Well, my friends, Israel’s security is non-negotiable!”
Trump, speaking to the group in the evening, started out by saying he wasn't going to "pander." His reference to "Israel and Palestine" was an unusual one at a conference where politicians tend to pointedly use "Israel and the Palestinians." And his attack on Hillary Clinton as a "disaster" drew a decidedly mixed reaction from the crowd.
But a toned-down version of his standard hit on the Iran nuclear deal drew a good response. And his pledge to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem drew a great one. "I love this crowd. I love Israel," he said. "My daughter Ivanka is about to have a beautiful Jewish baby."
Ted Cruz didn't have a Jewish grandkid to point to. He did have a speech that went further than Trump's. (For instance: The Texas senator didn't just say he would remove federal funding from any colleges or universities involved in the “BDS movement” seeking an economic boycott of Israel over Palestinian policy -- he promised that any colleges that violated federal law on that front would "be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.")
Cruz -- who joked that Lindsey Graham's decision to fundraise for him should "allay any doubts that the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob can still do miracles" -- has been pushing hard for Jewish support, reports Katie Zezima. Of course, it hasn't been a seamless effort ("Cruz rejects evangelical backer's controversial Hitler comment" isn't the worst headline a candidate on that front can experience during the primary season. But it isn't the best, either -- particularly on a story that noted the senator had not actually rejected Pastor Mike Bickle's endorsement. Cruz's "New York values" attack line didn't play well with some Jewish critics either.)
Then again, Cruz isn't targeting the entire Jewish community -- he's focusing on the subgroup of Orthodox and Israel security-minded voters, and running against a front-runner who has said he would take a different approach in the Middle East than many of his Republican predecessors and rivals. Fifty-seven percent of Orthodox Jews identified as Republicans or leaned toward the party and “more closely resemble white evangelical Protestants than they resemble other U.S. Jews” in a 2013 Pew Research Center survey.
At this point, Cruz may be hoping they behave more like Mormons. Here's why...
THE VIEW FROM ELECTION EVE: Tomorrow is Election Day in Arizona and Utah. Idaho's Democrats will also hold caucuses.
Donald Trump's odds look good in Arizona -- and not so good in Utah, as he himself acknowledged today. Not good at all.
It isn't just that he actually came in third among primary voters in a weekend poll, 42 points behind Cruz (in a state where, if a candidate breaks 50 percent, they receive all 40 delegates.) It's that, as Philip Bump notes, another poll suggested that as GOP nominee, Trump would lose to either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in Utah, one of the reddest states in the country.
Why? Take a look at the results in Utah-bordering states Idaho and Wyoming, where Trump has lost big to Cruz: Here's Donald Trump's Mormon problem, in one chart.
One explanation, beyond Trump's generally weaker showing out West: there are some signs Trump's brash style -- and his lifestyle -- may not be playing well with Mormon voters in particular.
And in a bid to help Cruz hit that 50 percent mark, the anti-Trump Make America Awesome PAC has been targeting Utah's Mormons via Facebook ads, reported Buzzfeed -- including this one:
Heading into Election Day, Donald Trump's conservative foes are still finding their way on which attacks work best. But it's become pretty clear which don't.
Take the hit on Trump as someone who favors universal health care, using a 60 Minutes clip from last year in which Trump said "the government" would fund health care plans for the poorest Americans. That moment is featured in a Club for Growth ad running ahead of tomorrow's Utah primary. It's also starred in ads funded by Our Principles PAC and Keep the Promise I, and an earlier Club for Growth spot.
Yet there's no evidence that pounding Trump over this quote has hurt his rise, reports Dave Weigel. "The reason, according to someone familiar with stop-Trump polling, is that the mogul's voters simply don't disagree strongly with the candidate. In one poll conducted within the last week, potential Trump voters were asked if they would bail on him if convinced that he would fail to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Less than a third of them said they would."
AND NOW, THE TOP 5 WAYS DONALD TRUMP DESCRIBED HIS HANDS in a Washington Post editorial board meeting Monday:
(Here's a refresher on why he's so insistent, if you need one -- although, if you're reading this, you probably don't.)
Trump's D.C. visit today also included a meeting that illustrated his new efforts to reach out to the Republican establishment -- and the uphill climb he still faces in his quest for acceptance.
Trump "swooped into Capitol Hill Monday afternoon to huddle at a law firm with about two dozen Republicans, a group that included influential conservatives in Congress and several major figures in GOP lobbying circles," reports Paul Kane.
As they left the meeting, Trump's supporters said the meeting was the first of many to come in which the Republican presidential front-runner tries to unify the party from what has been a bitterly divisive primary campaign. In addition to lawmakers who had already announced their endorsements, the first-time candidate drew former House speaker Newt Gingrich [who has praised Trump in the past] and Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint to the meeting, as well as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and former House Appropriations Committee chairman Bob Livingston.
There were only two senators in attendance: Jeff Sessions, who has already endorsed Trump, and Cotton: "[N]o member of the congressional Republican leadership appears to have attended the event. At least three times in the last three months, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has rebuked Trump's campaign for straying from conservatives principles."
Later, Trump spoke carefully about the arm's-length reception from congressional leaders. What about the criticism from Ryan, and reports the speaker has met with Trump foes behind the scenes? he was asked. Could the speaker still chair the convention fairly? "It's a very fair question because I notice he's having meetings," said Trump.
"Now they can play games and they can play cute, I can only take him at face value. I understand duplicity. I understand a lot of things," said Trump. "But he called me last week, he could not have been nicer. I spoke with Mitch McConnell, he could not have been nicer," he said. "If people want to be smart, they should embrace this movement."
TRUMP'S D.C. DAY, IN TWO TWEETS:
Tony Ensminger came from Ohio to hawk Trump buttons and hats. Says he's getting a lay of the land for inauguration pic.twitter.com/9wZepWuldu— Fenit Nirappil (@FenitN) March 21, 2016
TRAIL MIX: Trump plans to release a list of potential Supreme Court picks soon.
--Mitt Romney has recorded a robocall for Ted Cruz.
--Bernie Sanders has won the vote among Democrats living abroad.
--The last presidential candidate who was as unpopular as Donald Trump was David Duke.
YOUR DAILY TRAIL PIT STOP: icymi this weekend: Donald Trump and Ben Carson are serenaded with a heartfelt rendition of "Stand by Me," and it is amazing.