A front-runner under attack from all sides, Republican Donald Trump demanded that his party’s skeptical establishment embrace the inevitability of his presidential nomination as he stormed into Washington on Monday. Democrats responded by debuting a multipronged assault, shifting their rhetoric and resources against the man they expect to face in a contentious and ugly general election campaign.
“If people want to be smart, they should embrace this movement,” Trump declared at a news conference, shrugging off passionate resistance to his candidacy from both parties.
“I’m an outsider,” Trump said. “They’re not used to this.”
As he often is, Trump was dogged by protests.
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton touched off her party’s fresh anti-Trump campaign during a morning foreign policy speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Conference (AIPAC), questioning the former media star’s readiness to guide the nation through delicate international entanglements.
“We need steady hands,” Clinton told thousands at the pro-Israel gathering. “Not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who-knows-what on Wednesday because everything’s negotiable.”
Israel’s security, she proclaimed, “is nonnegotiable.”
Trump kindled criticism from Republicans as well as Democrats earlier in the year when he pledged to be “sort of a neutral guy” on Israel. While the U.S. is officially neutral in the Middle East conflict, his statement marked a rhetorical departure for U.S. presidential candidates.
Getting a second chance to face pro-Israel activists, Trump on Monday promised there would be “no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the State of Israel” in his administration. But he also repeatedly referred to “Palestine” instead of the “Palestinian territories” as he read from prepared remarks, using a term many pro-Israel activists oppose.
Rival candidate Ted Cruz, following him at the conference, jabbed Trump for that reference, saying Palestine “hasn’t existed since 1948.”
Clinton and her allies have readied a three-pronged effort against Trump that targets his character, credentials and controversial statements about women and minorities. That began in earnest on Monday, with labor unions, members of Congress and the presidential candidates all escalating their criticism.
This latest attack comes the day before Clinton is likely to extend her overwhelming delegate lead over Sanders in primary contests in Arizona, Utah and Idaho. On the Republican side, Trump’s remaining rivals — Texas Sen. Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — are fighting in Arizona and Utah to stop him from building an insurmountable lead as well.
Cruz unveiled an endorsement from Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who declared in a state Capitol news conference that Cruz has the best chance to stop Trump. Kasich’s campaign was promoting an endorsement from the GOP’s 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney — although Romney only endorsed Kasich in Ohio. He’s backing Cruz in Utah.
Shortly after Clinton’s speech, Trump huddled in Washington for a closed-door meeting with about two dozen Republican officials, many of them supporters.
“It’s obvious that Mr. Trump will be our nominee,” said Rep. Chris Collins, one of two New York congressmen openly backing him. “We need to take the fight to Hillary Clinton.”
Added Rep. Scott Des Jarlais of Tennessee: “People up here need to take a look at what’s happening and probably get used to the idea that it’s very likely Donald Trump will be our nominee.”
The New York real-estate mogul was using a rare day in Washington to woo a Republican establishment that’s been reluctant on stopping his rise. Beyond mainstream Republicans, Trump also faces resistance from pro-Israel activists over what they consider a mixed record on the Middle East.
On Monday, Trump also appeared to break with decades of U.S. precedent on aid to Israel. When a reporter noted that Trump, in his rallies, frequently says that affluent countries that accept U.S. aid — like Germany and Japan — should return the funds. The Republican front-runner was then asked if that should apply to Israel.
“I think Israel will do that also, yeah,” Trump said, before easing back on that statement minutes later.
Trump, Cruz and Kasich also addressed the pro-Israel group Monday evening.