The snide comments began to roll in before the Republican frontrunner even finished his speech.
“The Donald can read!” one critic snarled.
“He just cut and pasted his pandering remarks,” another sneered.
“Trump went an entire speech without making fart noises and for that he gets kudos,” observed yet another.
In fact, most of the commentariat were dismissive of Donald Trump’s March 21 speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. But just like journalists and pundits who were too contemptuous of Trump to see the strength of his insurgent campaign unfolding before their eyes, those mocking the candidate’s teleprompter-aided talk tonight missed the story again.
What the ever-vexing Manhattan billionaire delivered in Washington was the first structured speech of his presidential campaign. He also answered critics who have continuously mocked the man for being short on policy and long on bluster, even if they were too clever to listen for his reply.
The Wall Street Journal accurately reported that the “largely receptive” crowd heard Trump deliver a speech that was “read from a prepared text, and eschewed the harsh, sometimes profane rhetoric that he has often employed on the campaign trail.”
Gaining praise for reading from prepared remarks may be a comically low bar for any other candidate, but for Trump this was an important moment. His AIPAC speech arrived at a critical time for a candidate rising in the polls, even while suffering from a series of self-inflicted setbacks.
Trump’s erratic style has traumatized a GOP establishment that is trying to keep him at arm’s length. While cynics predictably dismissed speeches from Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to their Jewish audience as “pandering,” there are millions of Republican voters like myself who saw it as a welcome respite from almost eight years of measured contempt toward the state of Israel from the Obama administration.
Despite criticizing Trump for his lack of discipline, his proposed Muslim ban, his refusal to criticize David Duke and a number of other inexplicable episodes during his baffling run for the White House, I will not substitute self-righteous preening for political analysis. I heard breathless reports of planned walkouts leading up to the AIPAC speech. What I saw instead during the speech were repeated camera shots of standing ovations.
Did he deliver this campaign’s version of the Gettysburg Address? Not on your life. The content was predictable and his delivery was less riveting than his rambling campaign rants. But once again, Trump exceeded expectations and added order to his oratory. Continuing that approach may begin to appease restless Republicans and also make a general election fight against Hillary Clinton closer than current polls suggest.
Journalists and news analysts who keep tripping over themselves to prove their moral superiority to Donald Trump and the voters pushing him toward the Republican nomination should also work a little harder to cover that story. Leave it to an angry Republican establishment to run the “Stop Trump” movement and try not to botch coverage of the 2016 general election as badly as you missed the multitude of signs pointing to Trump’s initial rise. As I said on “Morning Joe” last August, “this denial of reality of the mainstream media just plays into Donald Trump’s hands.”
It did then. It does today. And it will continue to help the man they hate so long as contempt for the confounding candidate keeps getting in the way of the story.
Joe Scarborough is a former Republican congressman from Florida and host of Morning Joe on MSNBC. He wrote this column for The Washington Post.