At MSNBC town hall, Trump says he will be "neutral" on Israel and Palestine

Last night there was a quickly assembled town hall on MSNBC which featured Donald Trump being interviewed in South Carolina by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. (Coincidentally going head to head against three candidates being similarly grilled on CNN, I’m sure, but more on that below.) They touched on a broad range of issues, but the one which caught the attention of quite a few pundits was a question about Trump’s plans for peace in the Middle East. Would the business mogul be siding with Israel or the Palestinians? On that front, The Donald doesn’t seem to be picking favorites. (The Hill)

GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Wednesday refused to pick sides in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

“You know, I don’t want to get into it,” he told hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski during a MSNBC town hall in Charleston, S.C.

“If I win, I don’t want to be in a position where I’m saying to you [my choice] and the other side now says, ‘We don’t want Trump involved,'” Trump said of potentially winning the presidency and then brokering a lasting peace deal.

“Let me be sort of a neutral guy,” the billionaire added. “I have friends of mine that are tremendous businesspeople, that are really great negotiators, [and] they say it’s not doable.

At first glance, this appears to be yet another wild card position which would be political suicide for any Republican candidate not named Trump. Among the GOP base, support for Israel is as close to being homogeneous as you’ll find on any issue of the day. Even beyond the walls of the conservative fortress, Americans in general are still widely in favor of supporting Israel by a 62 to 16 margin according to Gallup’s latest edition of their long running survey on the subject.

I’m not here to tell you that Trump is doomed and this will certainly spell the end of his campaign. I’ve learned my lesson by now. But I do think it’s worth noting that his answer, rather than being random or damaging, follows a pattern we’ve seen before. He leads off with something controversial which gets people talking. The default Republican answer is to say that of course you support Israel, so Trump goes somewhere else. But as the hosts drilled down on the subject, The Donald goes further and starts saying things which wind up causing people to being examining the question further. He speaks of how many people have tried to make that deal and gone down in flames. Does anyone really want to argue with that? But if he’s going to try to work towards some sort of peace deal, he doesn’t want to walk into the room having already staked out a position favoring one side or the other. If you remove the names of Israel and the Palestinians from this scenario and replace them with two business opponents, isn’t that just what an arbitrator would do before sitting down for negotiations?

With all the other global crisis situations playing out right now I’m not sure how much traction this gets this week, but if it does light up the boards I’m guessing that Trump doesn’t come off all that badly once people have time to digest it. To give credit where due, the guy has an amazing ability to light political bonfires and then stand back while others throw themselves into the flames.

I also wanted to touch on the fact that this town hall raised quite a few eyebrows simply by taking place. Among both liberals and establishment Republicans who are prone to dislike Trump, MSNBC’s decision to air the special was widely panned, along with how they conducted it. The Daily Beast described it by saying, Hurricane Trump Flattens MSNBC Town Hall. Slate was even less circumspect, calling the entire spectacle “disgraceful.”

Sure, there was an element of showmanship to it on the part of Donald Trump. CNN is trying to hog the evening cable news airwaves with two consecutive nights of town halls with the GOP candidates. (Trump is scheduled to be on there tonight.) Rubio and Cruz – still arguably Donald’s two biggest opponents – were getting big segments last night, so Donald quickly put an offer on the table to MSNBC to air something with him in direct competition. Is that dirty pool? Welcome to the big leagues, folks. Donald Trump wants to control the flow of oxygen in the room and the one way to do it is to cut into the ratings for any air time his opponents get. What you saw on display was Business Management 101. And to put some icing on the cake, he gets to turn around and use CNN’s air time 24 hours later. For their part, CNN can’t cut him out of the second town hall because they’d come off looking like spoiled brats who were playing favorites in their election coverage. Trump is once again playing them like a fiddle.

If you don’t think the Morning Joe crew did a good enough job interrogating Trump, I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Scarborough and Brzezinski kept grilling the businessman, hitting him with follow-up questions and interrupting his answers to knock him off his talking points. Did it work? Not really, but I’m not blaming them for it. Donald has gotten awfully good at handling the media and not losing his cool. Whether you like Trump or not, it’s an interesting chess match to watch, and thus far he seems to be winning. Of course, if you’ve been following Trump’s campaign from the beginning you know that he’s eventually just going to flip the board over anyway.


David Strom 12:41 PM on September 26, 2022