WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Marco Rubio took to the podium at a synagogue in his home state of Florida on Friday to caution voters against casting a ballot for Donald Trump, saying his positions are “anti-Israeli” and dangerous to American national security.
Rubio’s sober warning that Trump isn’t qualified to be commander in chief is part of a naked appeal to Florida’s sizable Jewish population just days out from the Florida primary on Tuesday. The senator has gained on Trump in recent days, but he still trails by nearly 15 points, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average. Many observers expect Rubio to drop out of the race if he loses Florida.
“It is unfortunate that in this election that the supposed front-runner, Donald Trump, has said that on the issue of Palestinians and Israelis he will not take a side. Let me be abundantly clear: When I am president, we are going to take a side, and we are going to be on Israel’s side,” Rubio said. “As I said last night, Mr. Trump perhaps does not understand that his position is in fact anti-Israeli.”
Rubio asked voters to imagine a Trump White House, and said his rival wasn’t qualified to handle thorny global challenges. “Vladimir Putin and North Korea and ISIS and Israel’s enemies and the Chinese government are not going to wait for you to catch up before they test you on the global stage. Donald Trump is not ready for the test.”
The comments came less than a day after Trump took to the podium at the Republican presidential debate Thursday to defend his “neutral” position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At the debate in Miami, Trump said that taking sides is bad for negotiating, particularly in an issue as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Still, he tried to reassure primary voters — many of whom are strongly pro-Israel — that he would maintain close ties to Jerusalem.
“First of all, there’s nobody on this stage that’s more pro-Israel than I am,” the New York businessman said to applause from the audience. “I happen to have a son-in-law and a daughter that are Jewish, OK? And two grandchildren that are Jewish.”
Their comments come at a tense time for the U.S. Israeli relationship. Just ahead of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit there this week, President Obama’s national security council spokesman called out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for canceling a meeting he’d requested in Washington, D.C., next week. Unnamed Israeli aides had told an Israeli newspaper that the White House hadn’t been willing to make time for Netanyahu, comments the administration rebutted.
Rubio tried to attach Trump to what he said was the “daylight” put between the U.S. and Israel by the Obama administration. “It is this daylight that has been created between the Obama administration and Israel which apparently Trump wants to continue that has emboldened Israel’s enemies,” he said Friday.
Rubio isn’t the only Trump rival trying to convince primary voters that the businessman isn’t sufficiently pro-Israel. In Thursday’s debate, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz invoked the name of Taylor Force, a U.S. citizen and Army veteran who was stabbed to death Tuesday in the port city of Jaffa, not far from where Biden was meeting with former Israeli President Shimon Peres. Cruz has won more states and delegates than any GOP candidate other than Trump.
“[Force] was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist this week in Israel, and I don’t think we need a commander in chief who is neutral between the Palestinian terrorists and one of our strongest allies in the world, the nation of Israel,” Cruz said.
On Friday, Rubio went even further, arguing that Trump was wrong to advocate peace talks while Israelis and Palestinians seem further away from a deal than ever before. “Forcing Israel to the negotiating table, which apparently Donald Trump intends to do, only further weakens Israel.”
He also pledged that the U.S. embassy would be moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv — a promise routinely made by candidates from both parties and then broken after they take office.
Rubio isn’t seeking re-election to the Senate, which means losing his bid for the GOP nomination would leave his political future uncertain. In his comments Friday, Rubio said he has had no conversations with other candidates about forming alliances to keep Trump from getting the delegates necessary to win the Republican nomination. Asked what would happen if he loses Florida, as is expected, Rubio joked that he hadn’t “even thought about what I’m having for lunch today.”
Still, he seemed at peace with exiting politics. “I’ve been very clear: January of next year, I will either be the president of the United States or a private citizen,” he said. “And if I never hold elected office again, I am comfortable with that.”
Photo credit: Joe Raedle