Donald Trump used the war in Israel to test new lines of attack against Joe Biden at a Republican event on Wednesday in Palm Beach, as his campaign sought to weaponize for political gain the deepening conflict that could still be raging around the time of the 2024 presidential election.
The former president’s extended remarks on Israel, at an event hosted by the longtime pro-Trump group Club 47, provided a clear insight into Trump’s intention to wield the war as a cudgel against Biden on touchstone foreign policy issues.
They also marked his most substantial remarks on the war since Hamas militants launched attacks against Israeli civilians over the weekend.
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The wider question from the mini rally, which took place a short drive from his Mar-a-Lago club, was how the war in Israel might affect the dynamics of the 2024 election, in the way that the war in Ukraine unexpectedly became a lightning rod for Trump’s base in the Republican party.
Trump’s central theme during his one hour and 40 minute speech was that Biden was to blame for the increase in conflicts during his time in office, though the factual record supported little of his supposed arguments.
“Under my leadership the world was peaceful and calm because America was respected … with crooked Joe Biden, you have chaos, bloodshed, war, terror and death,” Trump said. “Joe Biden came along and tossed Israel to the bloodthirsty jihads,” Trump added without offering evidence.
Trump repeatedly mischaracterised the circumstances surrounding the $6bn in humanitarian aid to Iran that the US unfroze in exchange for five American prisoners, insinuating that those funds were then transferred by Iran to Hamas to fuel the attacks against Israel.
The problem with Trump’s line is, according to US officials, that none of that money has been released to date and remains in a bank account in Qatar controlled by the US Treasury, which has to approve every outflow.
Trump also claimed that he was “proud to be the best friend Israel has ever had”, only to then abruptly criticize Israel for their military intelligence capabilities and for “letting us down” by not participating in the US assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in 2020 during the Trump administration.
But the realities and nuances of Trump’s misstatements on Israel did not appear to register to much of the Make America Great Again crowd in attendance – an instructive barometer since top Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trial continue to read their vibes to navigate themselves through to the 2024 election.
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The event was mostly full of Trump’s base, which waited more than two hours before Trump took to the stage festooned with his preferred backdrop of dozens of American flags. They danced and cheered as they waited for Trump to appear around an hour late, according to the schedule.
Trump’s supporters also appeared detached from how his 2024 campaign and legal defenses have started converging as of late: lawyers for Trump’s co-defendants in the classified documents case are due in federal court Thursday at a hearing to sort out potential conflicts of interest issues.
The Florida congressman Matt Gaetz did not make an appearance at the Club 47 event, though he was billed as the other major speaker, having apparently cancelled after House Republicans convened on Capitol Hill to nominate a candidate for House Speaker after Gaetz ousted Kevin McCarthy from the role last week.
Trump and Gaetz had both endorsed the Ohio congressman and House judiciary committee chairman Jim Jordan, but hours before his speech, the winner of the internal House GOP contest was the majority whip Steve Scalise, which Trump critics used to suggest his influence on Republicans could be waning.