Before Donald Trump took the stage at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's conference in Washington on Monday night, organizers set up two teleprompters. A different sort of presidential candidate then took the stage, surrounded by 10 men in dark suits.
Trump prepared a speech for the conference -- something that he has yet to acknowledge doing on the campaign trail -- and he mostly stuck to it, injecting only a few ad libs here and there as his eyes darted from one teleprompter to the other. This is the candidate who once declared that teleprompters should outlawed on the campaign trail and who has colorfully criticized his rivals for using the machines while he takes the stage with simple, rough notes containing mostly brag-worthy poll numbers. But this was also the candidate who has slowly curtailed his personal style and bombast to appear more presidential as he gets closer to becoming the Republican nominee.
Trump told the crowd that he would not pander to them and then laid out his defense of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, firmly taking a stand after weeks of seeming to avoid doing so. The crowd warmly applauded him, often giving him standing ovations, and there was no sign of a mass walkout from the cavernous Verizon Center, as some participants had threatened. Still, about 200 protesters gathered outside the arena and afterward, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism said in a statement that Trump's more polished presentation "did nothing to allay our deep concerns about his campaign."
In kicking off his 25-minute remarks, Trump declared that he is a "true friend of Israel," noting that he lent his personal jet to New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani when he visited Israel weeks after the 9/11 attacks and that he was the grand marshal of the Israel Parade in New York in 2004, at the height of violence in the Gaza Strip. In closing, he noted that his daughter Ivanka Trump will soon give birth to a "beautiful Jewish baby."
Trump again called for dismantling the nuclear deal with Iran, calling it "catastrophic" for the United States, Israel and the Middle East. And he again called for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. But he had a fresh new attack: Denouncing the "weakness and incompetence of the United Nations" for angling to impose an agreement on "Israel and Palestine," rather than bringing both parties to the table to negotiate. If the United Nations were to impose such an agreement, Trump said that as president he would push for the United States to use its veto power.
Trump claimed to have studied the Iran deal in "greater deal than almost anybody," prompting many in the audience to laugh at him. He then used a three-point list, a new speaking tactic for him, to outline what he would do as president: 1) "Stand up to Iran’s aggressive push to destabilize and dominate the region," noting that the country has been arming Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syrians. Trump called for cutting off funds to Iran and added that he knows "how to deal with trouble;" 2) Dismantle Iran's network of terrorists around the world. 3) At the very least, restructure the terms of the Iran deal so that Iran is not allowed to test ballistic missiles, which he said Iran is doing to intimidate Europe and other nations.
Trump's prepared remarks, which were posted on his campaign website on Monday evening, are mostly written as he speaks, with a heavy dose of exclamation points and em dashes. But he deviated here and there, repeating some words for emphasis and several times adding "believe me." When he mentioned his book, "The Art of the Deal," he rattled on unscripted about its greatness, and when he mentioned that President Obama will soon be out of office, he added a curt: "Yay," prompting laughter and applause from the audience as he smirked. He replaced a "when I'm president" with "when Donald Trump is president of the United States."
Trump spoke at length about ending the culture of hatred toward Jews in the Middle East, providing a riff that seemed written by a speechwriter instead of hastily composed in the heat of the moment. It was well received by the audience that had been entertained in between speeches by professionally produced documentaries.
"Every single day, you have rampant incitement and children being taught to hate Israel and to hate the Jews," Trump said. He then went off script and added: "It has to stop."
He then picked the teleprompter back up: "When you live in a society where the firefighters are the heroes, little kids want to be firefighters. When you live in a society where athletes and movie stars are heroes, little kids want to be athletes and movie stars. In Palestinian society, the heroes are those who murder Jews -- we can't let this continue." He went off script to add emphasis: "We can't let this happen any longer."
He restarted the speech yet again, but was cut off by applause. When it ended, he continued: "You cannot achieve peace if terrorists are treated as martyrs. Glorifying terrorists is a tremendous barrier to peace." Again he went off script: "It is a horrible, horrible way to think. It's a barrier that can't be broken. That will end and it will end soon."
He then added two more unscripted words: "Believe me."