Trump seeks to build campaign momentum with Middle East deal

Trump seeks to build campaign momentum with Middle East deal
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President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Milley warns of 'Sputnik moment' for China WSJ publishes letter from Trump continuing to allege voter fraud in PA Oath Keeper who was at Capitol on Jan. 6 runs for New Jersey State Assembly MORE is seeking to build up some much-needed momentum with the landmark peace agreement announced Thursday between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), arguing it shows his negotiating skills are changing the Middle East in a positive way for U.S. interests.

The accord marks the first time the president has secured a major foreign policy agreement with overwhelming bipartisan support, and it builds political capital at a critical time when his campaign is grappling with disapproval over how Trump has handled the coronavirus pandemic and the staggering unemployment rate.

While it is unclear whether the deal will have an impact on voters focused on the economy and he pandemic, GOP strategists say it breathes new life into Trump’s 2020 messaging.

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“It certainly gives some legitimacy when [the president] hails himself as the great negotiator,” said GOP strategist Doug Heye. “It gives Trump substance behind a claim that he's been making for a long time, where he just didn't have it.”

“Every vote counts. We don't really know yet how much of an impact this will have, but it does help President Trump to make his argument that he's a deal maker,” echoed Brian Darling, former counsel for Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulAfter 35 years, Congress should finally end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine It's time for Fauci to go — but don't expect it to happen On The Money — Democrats craft billionaire tax with deal in reach MORE (R-Ky.).

News of the deal comes just days after Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to meet House Dems before Europe trip: report 21 House Democrats call for removing IRS bank reporting proposal from spending bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Vulnerable House Dems push drug pricing plan MORE announced Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisRNC targets McAuliffe, Biden campaign event with mobile billboard Obama looks to give new momentum to McAuliffe Kamala Harris engages with heckler during New York speech MORE (D-Calif.) as his running mate.

Multiple GOP strategists said all positive news is helpful to the president, who is trailing Biden in polls and is seen as the underdog in the race. The deal gives something for the White House to tout in the coming debates and GOP convention.

Trump is seeking to convince voters to give him four more years, and the accomplishment gives him something real to tout as he attacks the Biden-Obama foreign policy.

“His out-of-the-box thinking and style has been criticized by all of them, and yet he continues to deliver,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “I think that this is a weapon for him, particularly in what we expect to be such a tight close race.”

Few see foreign policy usurping healthcare and the economy as an election-year issue.

“I really think the political effects of this are going to be limited,” said Brendan Steinhauser, co-founder of public relations firm Steinhauser Strategies. “I think that most Americans are not going to be paying attention to this as historic as it is.”

But strategists argued it still gives a boost to Trump, arguing that it undercuts past criticism from Democrats that the president destroyed any possibility of striking peace in the region over his decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- a move that was widely condemned by Palestinians.

They say it proves he can have a positive impact, and some are hopeful that other Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, might follow the UAE move as the U.S. and Israel seek to further corner Iran.

“This deal is a significant step towards building a more peaceful, secure and prosperous Middle East,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “Now that the ice has been broken, I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead.”

GOP strategists repeatedly pointed to positive press coverage across different outlets. They highlighted the op-ed by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in which the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter hailed the accord as “huge.”

“It’s a geopolitical earthquake,” wrote Friedman, a frequent critic of Trump. “The agreement brokered by the Trump administration...was exactly what Trump said it was in his tweet: a ‘HUGE breakthrough.’”

Other commentators have been more measured, noting that the UAE and Israel have been cooperating for years, undercutting the idea that the breakthrough is really a giant change.

Trump has repeatedly sought to make a play for both the pro-Israel community, a group that includes social conservatives and evangelicals, and Jewish voters.

He’s described himself as the strongest president for Israel in U.S. history, and Israeli leader Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE has showered him with praise.

Yet Trump has also been criticized for a rise in anti-Semitism during his presidency, undermining any hopes of winning over more Jewish voters.

Trump in 2017 was equivocal in his reaction to violence between white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups and those protesting them in Charlottesville, Va., stating that there were “very fine people” on both sides.

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“I don't think the president's role in this deal can erase his role domestically in encouraging an atmosphere that has spawned more anti-Semitism, more racism, and more antagonism against people of color than we have than we've experienced in the last decade,” Democratic strategist Basil Smikle told The Hill.

Still, the deal, which marks the first time a major Arab state has recognized Israel since the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, is receiving praise from both sides of the aisle.

“Israel and the United Arab Emirates have taken a historic step to bridge the deep divides of the Middle East,” Biden said in a statement.

GOP strategists said the fact that Democrats are not criticizing the deal is further proof its merits. They also note that Biden in a statement sought to take credit for it.

“The coming together of Israel and Arab states builds on the efforts of multiple administrations to foster a broader Arab-Israeli opening, including the efforts of the Obama-Biden administration to build on the Arab Peace Initiative,” Biden’s statement continues.

The strategists knocked this idea, arguing that three previous administrations sought to broker a peace deal and only Trump has succeeded.

“Biden tried to make the case that yes the president deserves credit, but somehow they set the ball in motion and that's just not true,” said O'Connell. “This is a historic breakthrough in an area that both Republicans and Democrats have tried to move the ball forward. And now, the Trump administration has something concrete.”