Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the UN, said last year She wouldn’t run if her former boss did, apparently changed her mind. She used her Saturday night speech here to say she’s “serious” about running and called for “a younger generation to lead across the board.”
Speeches by 2024 hopefuls at The Venetian Resort here showed the disrespect shown for Trump after his campaign announcement last week. Increasingly, they see him as beatable. And its launch two years before the next election – with a special counsel now hovering over it – has created a big and enduring target for the list of alternatives.
“He’s not going to have the financial support that he had, he’s not going to have the internal support that he had before,” said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, whose state is hosting the nation’s first GOP primary. “And so there are opportunities there. This political weakness is blood in the water for some people.”
“Now he will still be a player, but he will only be one of a dozen,” Sununu added. “There’s no way he’s leaving the field.”
Of course, Trump has often been left to die politically. And despite the incoming fire he faces, many Republicans consider him the early favorite for the nomination. Some say the willingness of others to enter the race could well improve his chances, potentially leading to a repeat of the 2016 primary when he prevailed against a fragmented field of Republican opponents.
When Trump spoke via video at the conference on Saturday, he was rewarded with thunderous applause. Many in the audience at the pro-Israel attendees see the former president as a hero, including for his decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
At the same time, Republican donors, activists and strategists have said the midterm elections have left Trump hurt and vulnerable – an invitation for his potential successors to buck himself.
While Pompeo has spent the last few years addressing Republican audiences in preparation for a 2024 bid, his remarks at this weekend’s conference were perhaps the furthest he’s gone. Pompeo noted that he had been “loyal” throughout his tenure in government, but said his allegiance was “not with one person, party or faction” — a not-so-veiled reference to Trump.
He also suggested that Trump deserved some responsibility for the medium-term failure, arguing, “Personality and celebrity just won’t make it. We can see that. The American people didn’t want to look back, they wanted to go forward. You care about what happens tomorrow, not what happened yesterday.”
Haley also got involved. While the former UN ambassador and South Carolina governor said “a single person” doesn’t deserve blame for the midterms, she noted that “we don’t need more politicians who just want to be on TV and talk about our problems.”
Christie and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, meanwhile, used her behind-closed-doors appearances Thursday night before a group of key donors to crush the former president. And during her public addresses on Saturday morning, Hogan argued that voters “sent a clear message that they want to turn the page,” while Christie urged the party to “stop being afraid of a single person.”
Two Republicans used their speeches to tease their candidacy. Haley told the crowd to applaud that she “never lost an election and I’m not going to start now.” And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — currently Trump’s most formidable potential rival — concluded his keynote address Saturday night by declaring, “Let me tell you this: We still have work to do, and I’ve only just begun to fight.”
Trump not only encounters resistance from Republicans who want to run. Several big donors who rallied on the Las Vegas Strip this weekend said they weren’t ready to back Trump again either. Many said they wanted to hear from his potential opponents. Former Vice President Mike Pence used his time at the event to catch up with some of them between his speech and a book signing.
Most telling, however, was the lack of a mega donor. Miriam Adelson, the party’s most sought-after employee and the RJC’s most prominent supporter, has said she has no plans to run in the primary — for Trump or anyone else. Adelson — who was Trump’s biggest benefactor in the 2020 election with her late husband, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson — skipped this year’s event to take a trip to Israel instead.
It was taken as a tacit sign of her lack of interest in participating in the race.
“By 2024, nobody has a monopoly,” said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks, who has long been close to many of the party’s top donors. “Everyone wants to see where the journey is going in the future. I think everyone has reached a point where they don’t want to look back but want to look ahead.”
“I think people are really window shopping,” Brooks added. “In terms of the people here, I think the field is wide open to earn support in 2024.”
DeSantis generated the most attention during the event. After mounting the podium, attendees rushed near the stage to take photos of the newly re-elected governor.
Sununu, serving in court in a fourth-floor conference room on Saturday, said voters in New Hampshire are “open to alternatives” to Trump — and that DeSantis “could be” the front-runner in the state.
“That’s no runaway, and he’s the damn former president. How can that be?” Sununu said of Trump. “If you’re a former president and you don’t get out of the field, what the hell do you do?”