WASHINGTON -- Despite earning a reputation for the red-meat jabs he takes at President Obama, there are occasions when Donald Trump will turn his guns on both members of the Republican tent and the conventional wisdom of the governing class.
On Friday night, the real estate mogul ventured down to D.C. for an appearance at the Faith and Freedom forum, a gathering of religious conservatives and political press. And while he poked, in his customary ways, at the president -- calling him "Barack Hussein Obama," questioning whether the long-form birth certificate he revealed was authentic, mocking his speech to the Queen of England -- the defining point may have been the incredulity he expressed toward the philosophical wisdom of U.S. foreign policy and the fiscal priorities of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)
Speaking to a friendly crowd, Trump meandered into a sharp criticism of Cantor for holding up disaster relief aid to tornado victims in Joplin, Missouri.
"A certain Republican representative, two nights ago -– I watched on television -– Representative Cantor, who I like, said we don't want to give money to the tornado victims," he said. "And yet, in Afghanistan we are spending ten billion dollars a month but we don't want to help the people that are devastated by tornadoes -- wiped out, killed, maimed, injured. We don't have money for them but we are spending ten billion dollars a month in Afghanistan. We are spending billions of dollars in Iraq where they have the second largest oil fields in the world … and we can't help people that got flooded in Mississippi that got hit horribly by tornadoes."
Trump wasn't the only Republican at the event to distance himself from the Majority Leader, who has insisted that disaster aid be offset by spending reductions elsewhere. Earlier at the forum, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said he disagreed with the idea that such money needed to be offset by corresponding spending cuts.
Barbour, however, offered his remarks from the vantage point of a politician who finds himself frequently dealing with natural disasters. Trump's critique came from the vantage point of an uber-nationalist. After addressing Cantor, he turned to U.S. foreign policy as a whole, once again swiping an established member of the conservative hierarchy.
"We should take the $1.5 trillion that is going to Iraq. We should take it… we should reimburse ourselves and we should reimburse our allies," he proclaimed. "We should take this oil and we should give a couple of millions of dollars each, this is peanuts, to the families of the soldiers who were killed. And we should give a million or two to every soldier that was severely wounded."
"I mentioned this and I didn't even think it would be controversial. To me it is common sense… and [conservative columnist] Charles Krauthammer, whoever he is, gets on Bill O'Reilly, and says" -- Trump switched into an intellectual-sounding voice -- "'Well Donald Trump doesn't know what he is talking about. That's a sovereign nation.'"
"Sovereign nation?" Trump added, with deliberate astonishment. "The people that we supposedly bring in are much closer to Iran than they are to the United States. So there is no sovereign nation. I was lambasted by guys like Krauthammer and others saying what a horrible idea it is, what a foolish idea it is, 'He cannot be serious.' I am totally serious."
For going after one of the most respected members of the conservative commentariat, Trump received only a decent amount of applause -– suggesting that a religious-conservative audience may not be entirely comfortable with the notion of non-interventionism in the Middle East.
Outside the halls, however, attendees said they were impressed by Trump's pitch.
"Personally, we ought to get out of Afghanistan," said Gloria Hawkins, a South Maryland attendee who described herself as a Christian first, a conservative second and a Republican third. "We went in there to get Osama and we got him … We should stop spending all this money on countries that hate us and spend it here where it needs to be. I don't pay my taxes to support people of other countries."
Kathy Lore, who traveled to the conference from Pennsylvania, said of Trump: "I wish he would have run [for president]. He is articulate. Would I vote for him? I don't know. I'd need to see the other candidates. But I would have loved to see him in a debate."