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Why most 2016 candidates are speaking at AIPAC

March 21, 2016 at 6:30 PM EDT
Tamara Keith of NPR and Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report join Gwen Ifill to discuss the latest in politics, including Hillary Clinton’s remarks to AIPAC, Donald Trump’s meeting with Republicans in Washington, the campaign pivot to the general election race, what to look for in Tuesday’s primary contests and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s words about Trump on social media.

GWEN IFILL: For more on how the candidates are positioning themselves with interest groups and with voters, we turn to Politics Monday, with Tamara Keith of NPR, and Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report.

Tam, let’s talk about that Hillary Clinton speech at AIPAC. First of all, for people who don’t know, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, what is it and why is their support significant? Why is everybody lining up, except for Bernie Sanders, to be there today?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: Well, and I will say that Bernie Sanders did give a foreign policy speech tonight in Utah at a gymnasium at a high school.

It is a very significant Israeli lobbying group, a significant — basically, you want AIPAC on your side, generally speaking, if you’re a politician in America. It’s just — it’s easier that way. And it’s a political force.

And Hillary Clinton came out, really, I think, with a general election posture. She came out swinging at Donald Trump in a significant way. That was one clip. She came out later in the speech and talked about, you know, not standing by as intolerance and bullying happens.

So she used that speech. She used stronger language than she has used, though she’s been using increasingly stronger language toward Trump.

GWEN IFILL: So, what is it that AIPAC can do for candidates, and then this particular group of candidates? Because John Kasich was there this afternoon. He gave a very strong speech, standing ovation.

STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report: Well, let’s remember AIPAC is not a political action committee in the sense that other political groups are. They give money to candidates. They endorse candidates. They do political activity.

They don’t do that. It’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

GWEN IFILL: That’s right. That’s right. Good catch.

STUART ROTHENBERG: And they do is introduce candidates to pro-Israel voters, mostly Jewish voters, in an attempt to generate support for Israel.

But, look, if you’re at AIPAC, you are going to meet contributors. you are going to meet people who want to decide what candidate to support. Israel is a key issue. So, AIPAC is a really important advocate for Israel, but in that regard, it has strong support in the Jewish community, not throughout the Jewish community.

There is another group, J Street, which is more…

GWEN IFILL: More liberal?

STUART ROTHENBERG: … more critical, more critical of Israeli domestic policy.

But AIPAC has a lot of groups around the country, a lot of supporters. It is a great place to go if you’re going to talk about U.S.-Israel relations.

GWEN IFILL: Right.

Let’s stick with Donald Trump for a while. He was in Washington today not only to meet with AIPAC, but also to meet with — at least it was billed as a meeting with establishment Republicans.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: But that didn’t — didn’t exactly live up to that.

STUART ROTHENBERG: No. This was another case where the billing, I think, was off.

Right. We expected this to be Republican insiders, veteran party strategists, long-term GOP maybe money folks. No, it was basically mostly people who had already endorse him, members from the Hill, Tom Reed of New York, Duncan Hunter of California, a number of…

(CROSSTALK)

GWEN IFILL: Jeff Sessions.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Jeff Sessions of Alabama, as well as a couple of other Republicans who hadn’t, Jim DeMint, now the head of the Heritage Foundation.

It was very odd in that he seemed to be talking to the choir there, not reaching out to moderate, pragmatic Republicans and party insiders, which is I thought he probably needed to do and probably he was going to do.

GWEN IFILL: Does that mean this pivot to being embraced by the mainstream Republican Party is not quite all the way there yet?

TAMARA KEITH: It’s not there yet.

The stages of denial of the Republican establishment are ongoing and they haven’t moved on to acceptance in a lot of ways. And Donald Trump held that meeting. Again, it wasn’t a broad meeting. It wasn’t, you know, going to the Senate Republican Caucus and doing the lunches.

Actually, the Senate is out of town. I think it happens to be that Donald Trump was in town for AIPAC, and this press conference at the hotel, and he had a meeting with a few people, and it got big billing.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about this pivot, this general election pivot, because both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would like it if we didn’t talk about Ted Cruz or John Kasich, who are still — and Bernie Sanders, who are still out there.

Is that what they’re using this little interregnum for?

TAMARA KEITH: They’re definitely making that shift. But it’s not done. It’s definitely not done on…

GWEN IFILL: In part because, for instance, Bernie Sanders outraised Hillary Clinton.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, absolutely. We got the February numbers, and he outraised her by something like $12 million or something. He raised more than $40 million. She raised more in the $30 million range.

Interestingly, though, she ends February with more cash on hand than he does, and he actually spent significantly more money. He outspent her by about $10 million in February. The results of that were not immediately apparent, given Super Tuesday, given what just happened semi,sort of Super Tuesday last Tuesday, where he didn’t win any of those states.

So, it’s — but Bernie Sanders is sticking it out and he is able to raise a lot of money, so he is not ready in any way to make that turn. One quick interesting thing, Elizabeth Warren, Senator Elizabeth Warren today went on a massive tweet storm, calling Donald Trump a loser, among other things.

But she has moved on. She hasn’t endorsed anyone in the Democratic race, but she has begun attacking the Republican front-runner.

GWEN IFILL: And I would just say what Donald Trump’s response is, but it would require too much explanation.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: So, let’s talk a little bit more about that, though.

You have Elizabeth Warren calling him a loser, clearly trying to stir the pot. You have more primaries coming up tomorrow. What are we all watching for now?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, we have two. We have the Utah caucuses and the Arizona primary on the Republican side.

Donald Trump has had the advantage in Arizona. There isn’t a lot of polling in either state, Gwen, so we’re kind of feeling our way through this, not that the surveys have always been accurate anyway.

GWEN IFILL: True.

STUART ROTHENBERG: But in this case, I think the endorsements, former Governor Jan Brewer, a number of other elected officials in Arizona have endorsed Trump. We’re kind of assuming that he’s the favorite there, and going to win, although Ted Cruz is running well apparently in what limited polling we have.

In Utah, on the other hand, though, it’s all about Ted Cruz, and will he get 50 percent? As it turns out, Donald Trump’s personality, style, criticism of Mitt Romney, language has alienated a lot of LDS Mormon voters. And right now, it appears that Ted Cruz is the overwhelming favorite there.

Trump is playing around. Kasich is playing around to try to keep Cruz under 50 percent. If Cruz exceeds 50 percent in Utah, he gets all of the delegates. It’s like a winner-take-all. So there is still some maneuvering going on here.

GWEN IFILL: A lot of maneuvering.

STUART ROTHENBERG: The two states are likely, most likely, at least we think, most likely to divide between the two candidates, which would, in a sense, I guess, keep the race as Trump the front-runner, Cruz the contender, and John Kasich still looking to win a race other than Ohio.

GWEN IFILL: And Bernie Sanders obviously deciding there is something to be gotten out West at this point.

TAMARA KEITH: Absolutely, there is. And he is about to begin, most likely, a very decent run, possibly a very good run of states that really favor him.

GWEN IFILL: Tamara Keith, Stu Rothenberg, thank you both very much.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Thanks, Gwen.

TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

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