Trump interview: Running mate will be pro-Israel, need to “finish up” Gaza war

Former President Donald Trump during the interview in Palm Beach, Fla., March 2024. Photo by Ami Shooman.

by Omer Lachmanovitch and Ariel Kahana

(Israel HaYom) — During our interview with Donald Trump, he kept saying he was the most pro-Israel president ever and will continue to be if elected. He pulls no punches when it comes to Joe Biden, but also has a critical commentary on the Jewish state. This is how our interview unfolded.

An umbrella for half a minute? Only 50 yards separate the gate of Donald J. Trump’s magnificent estate from the guest reception area. For those 50 yards, an enormous American flag was visible.

The strict security instructions we received two weeks before the interview made it clear that we would have to walk this short distance. But now, it was pouring rain. And so, hours before meeting the 45th president, we suddenly realized that we might reach him with our clothes drenched in water. And with all due respect to Israeli sloppy attire, this would have been too disrespectful.

This is how it happened that in the final tense hours before we left the hotel in West Palm Beach for Mar-a-Lago on March 22, we were preoccupied with the question of where to get umbrellas here and now. In the end, a local Walmart solved the problem. After all, this is America.

These tiny details of the interview were essential since this was not just another “question-answer” session with an American politician, but rather a complex journalistic and logistical operation, because Mar-a-Lago is not a typical office or standard home of an American senior official, but rather a strange combination of both, along with an operational golf club and restaurant. The faucets, chairs and other items are painted in Trump’s favorite gold color. The shiny parquet floor, high ceiling, plush sofas and waiters rushing back and forth exuded the aura of a royal palace.

At one point the signal was given and all the furniture was cleared to the side, to prepare the compound for a party held after our departure. On the walls, even in the bathrooms, hung pictures and paintings of Trump from various stages of his life, including with his late father. As is well known, our interviewee does not suffer from a lack of self-esteem.

All this took place while from the early morning hours, a five-person film and recording crew in the adjacent library room began meticulously aligning the camera angles, lighting intensity, chair positioning, and other minutiae that only they saw. They and Trump.

When the former president sat across from us at 5 in the afternoon, he devoted the first minute to examining how the conversation would look on screen. The man is, after all, a media creature with decades of experience.

“Looks good,” he said after long seconds of watching the monitor setup behind our backs displaying the interview. Only when he was satisfied with what he saw was the signal given to start the conversation.

J’Accuse 

We asked questions. Trump answered, in his way. Because in the whole world, there is no other politician who speaks in his language and manner. He uses words like “incompetent,” “stupid,” “dumb,” “Biden is the worst president ever,” and so on. People his age (77) have long stopped speaking like that. But to the American public, or at least half of it, this style resonates.

And yet, it’s one thing to see such statements on a television screen, and quite another to hear them face-to-face from a former president sitting across from you. Trump also did not hesitate to jump between subjects in contexts that were not always clear mid-conversation.

And what else was clear: Trump chose to speak about Israel’s war only in general terms. He refrained from saying anything that would box him in about it.

When we asked, “Do you agree with Israel’s goal of completely destroying Hamas? “He responded that “only a fool or a crazy person would have not responded the way you did,” adding that if he had been in the Oval Office, the war would not have broken out on Oct. 7.

“They would have never, ever done that [if I were president], for two reasons: No. 1, they were broke, and No. 2, when I was the president, they would have never done that, because they knew there would have been very big consequences.”

Although it is difficult to determine “what would have happened if “in history, in this case there is reason to assume he is right. After all, it is clear that Biden and his people projected American weakness around the globe, particularly towards Iran. Instead of putting it in its place, they allowed it to inch closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, took the threat of military action off the table, pumped billions of dollars into Tehran, and begged the ayatollahs for a new nuclear deal that never materialized. The flaccid message was well received in the Middle East.

“It [Oct. 7] was an attack that I blame on Biden because they [Hamas] have no respect for him. He can’t put two sentences together. He can’t talk. He’s a very dumb person. He’s a dumb person. His foreign policy throughout 50 years has been horrible. If you look at people that were in other administrations with him, they saw him as a weak, ineffective president, they [Hamas] would have never done that attack if I were there,” he said of his rival.

But when we tried in other ways to elicit a clear statement from him about an Israeli victory or the destruction of Hamas, he used his own way. “You have to finish up your war. To finish it up. You gotta get it done. And, I am sure you will do that. And we gotta get to peace, we can’t have this going on.”

It is true that, unlike President Biden, Trump, at least in his conversation with us, refrained from explicitly stating that “Hamas must be defeated,” but to Israeli ears, it is clear that the words “finish the job” mean agreeing with the overarching goal of the war.

Q: If you get re-elected, and the war might still be ongoing, how will you act?

“There has been no president better to Israel than me. Because of [recognition by the U.S. of Israeli sovereignty over] the Golan Heights, the Abraham Accords. If Obama did the Abraham Accords, you would have gotten 15 Nobel Peace prizes. I got nothing. I’ve been loyal to Israel, I’ve been the best president in history by a factor of 10 to Israel, because of all the things I do. The embassy in Jerusalem being the capital, is the best location for the embassy and getting the embassy built. The biggest thing I did was the Iran nuclear deal. I ended it. The problem is that Biden didn’t do anything with it.”

Q: What should be done now with Iran, now that they are so close to the bomb? 

“Well, I don’t want to tell you that. Because I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to tell you, but I don’t think you can allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. I don’t think it’s my position right now to be telling you that but I would tell you this — I was very strong on Iran not having a nuclear weapon to a point where they… literally had no money.”

He then went on to say that Iran was only 35 days away from a bomb, once a decision was made.

Q: They will not have a nuclear bomb if you are president? 

“They will never have a nuclear weapon, no. They can have a nuclear weapon in 35 days. I have seven months to go [to Election Day], and nine months to take office. A lot of bad things can happen in that period. That’s a lot. That’s like an eternity. Seven months in this world, and especially in the Middle East, where it’s so combative, and so combustible, that’s a long period of time, so many bad things can happen. And also, so many good things can happen. If we had a real president, if we had a president that knew what he was doing, who could put two sentences together, that could get solved very quickly.”

Good guys and bad guys

One must remember, of course, that the real battle for Trump is not in Gaza, it’s in the battleground states across America.

On that very morning, the headlines in the US dealt with an ultimatum from a New York court to Trump, to pay a paltry sum of half a billion dollars within 24 hours, or face the seizure of his luxury assets. The threat did not seem to bother him particularly as he nonchalantly entered the library where the interview was filmed. He chatted casually with those present, examined the camera angles as mentioned, and then answered the questions.

It is quite clear that political considerations led him to speak only in general terms about the war, without committing to anything future and with some distance from Israel. Although he is completely on Israel’s side as will be explained later, his interest at the moment is not to lose the lead he has opened over Biden in the Electoral College count. According to CNN polls, for example, he has already crossed the winning threshold of 270 electors, while Biden is struggling in the 225 range.

In other words, from his perspective, any sharp statement one way or the other can only detract from his chances. And if so, why say something he might later regret?

Most important, why alienate Michigan’s anti-Israel voters, who currently are not willing to go out and vote for Biden but intend to stay home? For now, Trump is slightly ahead in the swing state. Any pro-Israel statement from him could push them back into the rival’s arms, and perhaps jeopardize the presidency that seems within reach. So Trump, yes Trump, is weighing his words carefully, and holding back.

Does this mean that his actual attitude towards Israel will also be restrained if he wins?

The answer is complex and consists of two parts. One, Trump has a positive feeling towards Israel. Unlike Biden and his circle, he has no progressive sympathy or compassion for the Palestinians. He understands who the good guys and bad guys are, and that’s a very good starting point. In this spirit, he pledged in the interview, for example, that the vice president candidate he runs with will be a supporter of Israel.

Q: Who will you appoint as your running mate?

“Who would you like?”

Q: We want him or her to be a supporter of Israel.

“You’ll have an Israel supporter, that I promise you. Anybody that’s vice president for me, will be an Israel supporter. You don’t have an Israel supporter right now, you do know that. Kamala Harris is not a supporter of Israel. She’s the opposite. And Biden is not a supporter of Israel… She supports the enemy, but he supports the enemy too.”

Stock in decline

Trump believes he was the best president Israel has ever had but feels he deserves more credit.

“It’s not really reciprocal, because you know, I only got 26 percent of the [Jewish] vote. The first time in 2016 I got 25 percent. And the next time I got 26 percent. And the second time was more concerning because of [all the gestures towards Israel].

“… how a Jewish person in the United States can vote Democrat or can vote Biden is hard to believe, it’s almost as though they’ve never read a story. They’ve never picked up a newspaper or looked at a news desk. … He has abandoned Israel. And he sees those marches in Illinois, and he sees those marches in Michigan and all these different marches that they see with the Palestinians. And he is absolutely not for Israel.

“And [Sen. Chuck] Schumer is not for Israel. Schumer’s a Jewish guy who is not for Israel. What he did the other day with talking, you lose your spirit. And it’s not a question of Bibi Netanyahu. What he did is he said, ‘We want to break this thing up.’ It’s such a bad thing. You lose your guts, you lose your spirit, and it’s hysterical I mean, we have a lot of people like Schumer, a lot of people. We have a lot of Jewish people like Schumer.

“… look at The New York Times. It’s a Jewish family. I think they hate Israel. I watch what they write in the New York Times, it’s hysterical. Now the conservative Jews love Trump, I would get the highest marks I would get, I would beat anybody [with them]. They love Trump, I think they are great, and they love Israel.”

Trump clearly defines who is an enemy and who is a friend. And yet, people may have forgotten that he did not give Israel everything it wanted. One had to negotiate with him over construction in Judea and Samaria and convince him of the necessity of every move on the agenda. He was never a pushover, and since then he has accumulated personal resentment towards [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and has questioned Israel’s conduct since the outbreak of the war. Throughout the interview, it was impossible to miss what he sees as Israel’s declining share price.

“You don’t have the support you used to have. Some 15 years ago, Israel had the strongest lobby. If you were a politician, you couldn’t say anything bad about Israel, that would be like the end of your political career. Today, it’s almost the opposite. So Israel has to get better with the promotional and with the public relations because right now they’re really being hurt very badly. I think in a public relations sense.

“I think Israel made a very big mistake. I wanted to call [Israel] and say don’t do it. These photos and shots. I mean, moving shots of bombs being dropped into buildings in Gaza. And I said, Oh, that’s a terrible portrait. It’s a very bad picture for the world. The world is seeing this. …every night, I would watch buildings pour down on people. It would say it was given by the Defense Ministry, and said whoever’s providing that that’s a bad image.”

Q: But terrorists are hiding in those buildings.

“Go and do what you have to do. But you don’t do that. And I think that’s one of the reasons that there has been a lot of kickback. If people didn’t see that, every single night I’d watch and every single one of those. … And I think Israel wanted to show that it’s tough, but sometimes you shouldn’t be doing that.

“… Israel has to be very careful because you’re losing a lot of the world, you’re losing a lot of support, you have to finish up, you have to get the job done. And you have to get on to peace, to get on to a normal life for Israel, and for everybody else.”

If there is one thing Trump understands, it’s business, public relations, and the connection between them. This is how he became one of the most famous people in America, and consequently, president. Whether he returns to office or not, his assessments should be read as a warning sign.

The conversation ended, and Shabbat was approaching. The Stars and Stripes flag flew in the background. Passersby stopped at the estate’s gate to take pictures, pose for photos, or shout supportive calls to the former president, who of course could not hear them.

The man who had just devoted 45 minutes of his time to us will return to the presidency on Jan. 20, or perhaps not. With his captivating personality, the deeds done and attributed to him, his unique style, and no less important, the issues he placed on the international agenda, he has already left his mark on history. A significant part of this legacy directly deals with Israel, despite not feeling reciprocity, as he told us.

Trump also taught us how a conversation with an American president is conducted, and also equipped us as Israelis with plenty of food for thought about the war and its next steps.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.