Dispute erupts over whether Trump could have beaten Obama

President-elect Trump became decidedly more pro-Israel as his campaign progressed, and last week aligned with Israel in a recent UN vote from which the US abstained. Above, a placard in Tel-Aviv.
President-elect Trump became decidedly more pro-Israel as his campaign progressed, and last week aligned with Israel in a recent UN vote from which the US abstained. Above, a placard in Tel-Aviv. (JACK GUEZJACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images/FILE)

HONOLULU — President-elect Donald Trump and President Obama on Monday traded competing claims about who would have won if the 2016 presidential election had been a contest between the two men.

Obama said in a podcast hosted by his former adviser David Axelrod that he is confident he would have won a majority of Americans if he had run this year on the vision he has pursued for the last eight.

The president said the Democratic Party didn’t communicate that vision clearly enough this year, and he believes he could have articulated it better.

“I am confident in this vision . . . if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it,’’ Obama said.


“I know that in conversations that I’ve had with people around the country, even some people who disagreed with me, they would say the vision, the direction that you point towards, is the right one,’’ he said.

But Trump disputed Obama’s claim, saying on Twitter that Obama is expected to say that, but adding, ‘‘I say NO WAY!’’

Trump suggested that the president’s record is the reason he wouldn’t have won again, pointing to jobs leaving the United States, struggles in implementing the federal health care law, and the fight against the Islamic State.

In a separate message Monday from his West Palm Beach, Fla., resort, Trump questioned the effectiveness of the United Nations, saying it’s just a club for people to ‘‘have a good time.’’ His post on Twitter was the president-elect’s latest comment since the UN Security Council voted Friday to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Trump said the UN has ‘‘such great potential,’’ but it has become ‘‘a club for people to get together, talk, and have a good time. So sad!’’


On Friday, Trump warned, ‘‘As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20,’’ referring to the day he takes office.

Trump said last December he wanted to be ‘‘very neutral’’ on Israel-Palestinian issues. But his tone became decidedly more pro-Israel as the campaign progressed.

If Trump wanted to show he planned to obliterate Obama’s approach to Israel, he might have found his man to deliver that message in David Friedman, his pick for US ambassador. The New York bankruptcy lawyer and son of an Orthodox rabbi is everything Obama is not: A fervent supporter of Israeli settlements, opponent of Palestinian statehood, and unrelenting defender of Israel’s government.

So far to the right is Friedman that many Israel supporters worry he could push Israel’s hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be more extreme, scuttling prospects for peace with Palestinians in the process.

The heated debate over Friedman’s selection is playing out just as fresh tensions erupt between the United States and Israel.

In a stunning decision Friday, the Obama administration allowed the Security Council’s resolution on Israeli settlements to pass by abstaining from the vote Friday.

The move to abstain defied years of US tradition of shielding Israel from such resolutions, and elicited condemnation from Israel, lawmakers of both parties, and especially Trump.

Presidents of both parties have long called for a two-state solution that envisions eventual Palestinian statehood, and Netanyahu says he agrees. Friedman, who still must be confirmed by the Senate, does not. He’s called the two-state solution a mere ‘‘narrative’’ that must end.


Under Obama, the United States has worked closely with J Street, an Israel advocacy group sharply critical of Netanyahu. Friedman accuses Obama of ‘‘blatant anti-Semitism’’ and calls J Street ‘‘worse than kapos,’’ a reference to Jews who helped the Nazis imprison fellow Jews during the Holocaust.

For decades, the United States has opposed Israeli settlement-building in lands it seized in the 1967 Mideast war.

Friedman runs a nonprofit group that raises millions of dollars for Beit El, a settlement of religious nationalists near Ramallah. Beit El runs a right-wing news outlet and a yeshiva whose dean has provocatively urged Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to uproot settlers from their homes.

So it’s unsurprising that Friedman’s nomination has already sharpened a growing balkanization of American Jews, between those who want the United States to push Israel toward peace and those who believe Obama’s approach abandoned America’s closest Mideast ally.

It’s a debate playing out even at Temple Hillel, near the Long Island-Queens border, where Friedman’s father was rabbi for almost half a century.

‘‘Clearly, David’s opinions do not appeal to everybody in the synagogue, and they appeal to others in the synagogue,’’ said Ken Fink, the synagogue’s president and longtime congregant.

‘‘But there’s a huge amount of pride for the hometown boy,” he said.