Former President Donald Trump defended his support for Israel — days after drawing criticism for disparaging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — as he sought to shore up support among Iowa’s crucial evangelical voting bloc.
(Bloomberg) — Former President Donald Trump defended his support for Israel — days after drawing criticism for disparaging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — as he sought to shore up support among Iowa’s crucial evangelical voting bloc.
“I fought for Israel like no president ever before,” Trump said Monday during a campaign event in Adel, Iowa. Trump cited his move “recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” calling it “a big deal” and his declaration recognizing Israeli control over the Golan Heights, territory it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
“This is something that would have never happened” under his watch, Trump asserted, referring to the deadly Hamas attack that claimed the lives of more than 1,400 Israelis and left 199 people confirmed as hostages. “Israel wouldn’t have been attacked. You wouldn’t have lost all the people that have been lost. And unfortunately a lot of people are going to be lost into the future — on all sides. And it’s a very, very sad thing to see.”
Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, has been stepping up his campaign in early-voting Iowa, in hopes of ensuring a commanding victory there and cementing his status as the party’s inevitable 2024 nominee.
At a rally last week, Trump drew the ire of fellow Republicans and the White House after he assailed Netanyahu for not joining the US in a 2020 drone strike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and described Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite militant group designated as a terrorist organization by the US, as “very smart.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s chief rival for the nomination, seized on the comments, saying it was the wrong time to criticize Israel, with the country facing its deadliest threat in decades.
Trump’s remarks come as President Joe Biden is considering a trip to Israel, part of a diplomatic effort to stop the war from sparking a larger conflict. Biden has offered strong support for Israel even as the administration seeks to limit the impact on civilians.
Critical to Trump’s efforts in Iowa, where Republican voters will caucus in less than three months, are the state’s sizable bloc of evangelical voters, for whom support for Israel is a key issue. Trump rode evangelical support to the White House in the 2016 election, but his ties with that bloc have frayed in recent months.
Trump angered evangelicals by blaming the GOP’s messaging on abortion rights for the party’s worse-than-expected 2022 midterm performance and by feuding with Iowa’s popular conservative governor, Kim Reynolds.
A September CBS News/YouGov poll showed DeSantis over-performing among White evangelical voters in Iowa, getting 30% support compared to his 21% backing from likely caucus voters overall. Trump had 51% from both evangelicals and all likely Republican caucus voters.
–With assistance from Gregory Korte.
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