It’s a process we repeat every couple of days with President Trump: He does something controversial that seems like a bad idea on its face, and we’re quickly assured he’s playing three-dimensional chess. That was the prevailing analysis shortly after Trump successfully urged Israel to ban Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) ahead of their planned visit.
It was a highly unusual move — a U.S. president calling for members of his own government to be shut out by a foreign nation — but then talk turned to why Trump was doing it. This is just part of the supersmart base strategy that you don’t understand, the analysis said. He’s making members of “the squad” into his 2020 campaign opponents!
But even some conservatives and Trump supporters are suggesting Trump and Israel got played.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted that they were effectively giving Omar and Tlaib what they wanted.
He added: “Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state.”
Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro said it was “a PR mistake for Israel to hand this kind of club to them.”
Townhall’s Guy Benson agreed that Israel is within its rights to prevent the congresswomen from visiting — which Israel did by citing a law against encouraging boycotts — but said, “blocking the pair is a shortsighted and unwise move in terms of optics and narrative control.”
Omar and Tlaib’s whole schtick is grievance and victimhood, so handing them a new complaint that allows them to paint themselves as aggrieved victims strikes me as playing into their hands. It’s not like Omar and Tlaib are such effective communicators that their ham-fisted posturing over there would sway any persuadable people back home; they’re clumsy, deeply unpopular stooges. As for the notion of the duo accidentally learning something, I suppose anything is possible. Israel signaling openness and confidence by welcoming hostile American representatives would look a lot stronger than shutting them out, in my view.
It’s not mutually exclusive that this could be beneficial for both Trump and the congresswomen. Trump, after all, is more concerned about winning reelection in 2020, while Omar and Tlaib seem more preoccupied with making the case against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. By elevating the two of them, he could help them make their cause on a policy level and still help himself turn them into 2020 boogeywomen.
But even that strategy is suspect. A new YouGov poll shows the two congresswomen aren’t terribly unpopular. Omar’s image was 28 percent positive vs. 34 percent negative, while Tlaib’s was 26 percent positive vs. 30 percent negative. They were slightly more popular than White House counselor Kellyanne Conway (30/38). About half of independents don’t even know who they are. The benefit here seems to be in motivating Republicans, who hold sharply negative views of both women, but despite some high-profile rows, Trump doesn’t seem to have turned the congresswomen into pariahs with the broader electorate, by any means.
And electoral considerations aren’t the only ones at play here; the policy also matters to Trump and the GOP, who have made their alliance with Israel a centerpiece of their political agenda. Yet shortly after the announcement was made, AIPAC — the leading lobbying group for pro-Israel policies in the United States that has increasingly allied with Republicans — issued a rare and striking rebuke.
“We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution,” AIPAC said in a tweet. “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”
Trump will have plenty of chances to elevate these congresswomen ahead of the 2020 election — in part because, like Trump, they seem plenty happy to stir the pot. But he often can’t help himself when given the chance to provoke and stoke culture wars.
Israel was prepared to admit the women before he reportedly began raising a fuss this weekend. And it’s completely plausible that Trump pushed it into a counterproductive decision here.