LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Republican Party’s 2024 hopefuls, emboldened after the midterm elections, have been openly calling Donald Trump a “loser” over the past weekend as they courted donors and campaigners concerned about the future of the GOP under the Former president’s leadership worried.
Trump’s vocal critics included current and former Republican governors, members of his own cabinet and key donors, who gathered along the Las Vegas Strip to celebrate the unofficial start of the president’s next primary season. It was a remarkable display of defiance for a party that has defined itself almost entirely by its allegiance to Trump for the past six years.
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“Maybe there’s a little blood in the water and the sharks are circling,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, himself a Republican presidential candidate and frequent Trump critic, in an interview. “I don’t think we’ve ever gotten to this point before.”
The meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting, held last Friday, came just days after Trump became the first candidate to officially launch a 2024 campaign. His allies hoped his early announcement could stave off serious primary challenges, but several potential candidates said that wasn’t likely after Trump loyalists lost midterm contests in battleground states from Arizona to Pennsylvania last week. His already faltering political standing within the GOP continued to decline.
Before his Friday night address, Mike Pompeo, a former CIA director for the Kansas congressman and Secretary of State under Trump, mocked one of his former boss’s slogans: “We were told we were getting tired of winning. But I’m tired of losing.”
“Personality, celebrity just won’t make it,” he said later on the ballroom stage. It’s not always enough, Pompeo said, “to own the freedoms.”
However, Pompeo went on to characterize teacher union leader Randi Weingarten — and not Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un or Xi Jinping or any international terrorist mastermind — as a controversy-ready remark to Semafor’s Dave Weigel that seemed likely to spark controversy the “most dangerous person in the world”.
“It’s not close,” Pompeo added, though he claimed in the Semafor interview that he hasn’t yet made the decision to run for president.
Weingarten, an educator and president of the American Federation of Teachers, and a trained attorney, described Pompeo’s overheated words in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday as “pain for children and teachers’ efforts to bring the country back together.”
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Trump spoke via video conference before the Las Vegas meeting on Saturday. The vast majority of high-profile Republican officials considering a 2024 White House bid appeared in person at the two-day conference, which included a series of private donor meetings and public speaking engagements.
The show starred DeSantis, a leading Trump rival, and Pence, whom Trump blames for not annulling the 2020 election. Other speakers included Hogan, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, and Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who is considering not only a White House run, but Mitch McConnell as leader of the Senate Republican faction challenges.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, another potential 2024 contender, canceled his appearance after a shooting Sunday at the University of Virginia that killed three people. A second mass shooting in four days in the Commonwealth left six dead at a Walmart store in Chesapeake, Virginia late Tuesday.
House Republican Chairman Kevin McCarthy, who could become Speaker if Republicans take power in January, was also on the agenda for the Las Vegas convention.
There seemed to be little sympathy for Trump’s recent legal challenges.
Hours before Friday’s opening dinner, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into the presence of classified documents at Trump’s Florida estate, as well as key aspects of a separate investigation related to the Jan. 6, 2021, rioting and efforts at the election 2020 to undo.
See: Who is Jack Smith, the new special counsel for Trump probes?
Sununu, the New Hampshire governor who was reelected last week, said there was no sign his party would rally in Trump’s defense this time. “Those are his problems to solve,” Sununu said. “Everyone will sit back and watch the show. And these aren’t just his supporters — these are his money, these are donors, these are fundraisers,” the Republican governor said. “We just keep going.”
With a loyal base of support among ordinary voters and a sprawling fundraiser of small donations, Trump doesn’t need big donors or party leaders to reach for the GOP nomination a third time. But the unwillingness of big-money Republicans to sign him — at least for now — could make his road back to the White House more difficult.
In the corridors and conference rooms of the weekend meeting there was hardly a trace of enthusiasm for Trump’s presidential ambitions in 2024. At Friday night’s dinner, organizers offered attendees yarmulkes with Trump’s name on them, but few took them.
And this despite the fact that Jewish Republicans in the White House continued to praise Trump’s commitment to Israel.
“There is no question that what President Trump has achieved in his four years in strengthening US-Israel relations has been unprecedented. He was the most pro-Israel president ever,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
But this time, that might not be enough to convince the coalition’s top financiers.
“For many attendees at this conference, this is about the future,” Brooks said. “And for some of them, President Trump could be their answer. Others are interested in what others have to say.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addressed Trump’s political failures at a private dinner Thursday with the group’s top donors. In a subsequent interview, he did not back down.
“From my point of view, he is now a loser. He’s an election loser,” said Christie, another 2024 prospect. “You look at a general electorate, I don’t think there’s a Democrat he can beat because on a personal level he’s now toxic to voters in the suburbs is, and he deserves it.”
Held at the Venetian Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, the annual event pays homage to longtime Republican Jewish Coalition benefactor Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire LVS casino magnate.
who died last year. His wife, Miriam Adelson, remains a fundraising force within the GOP, although her giving level was scaled back somewhat in the recent midterm election, which topped $20 million.
76-year-old Israeli-born Miriam Adelson “remains neutral” in the 2024 GOP presidential primary, according to the family’s longtime political gatekeeper Andy Abboud.
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She is not alone.
Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress and heir to Estée Lauder’s cosmetics fortune, has supported Trump’s previous campaigns but intends to support him in 2024, according to a Lauder spokesman.
Longtime Trump supporter Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman and CEO of Blackstone Group BX,
Investment firm, Axios said this week that he would support someone from a “new generation” of Republicans. Kenneth C. Griffin, a fellow financial powerhouse, the hedge fund billionaire who recently relocated his Citadel businesses to South Florida from their longtime home in Chicago, is already openly behind DeSantis.
On Friday, Aerospace CEO Phillip Friedman described himself as a “huge Trump supporter,” but said he’s open to listening to others moving forward.
“There are a few other people who have his politics but don’t have the baggage,” Friedman said of Trump.
Keywords: Trump 2024? Republicans cheer and jeer as Donald Trump says he’s running for President again.
In his keynote speech, Pence focused largely on the Trump administration’s accomplishments, but also added some indirect taunts against the former president.
“To win the future,” Pence said, “we as Republicans and elected leaders must do more than criticize and complain.”
In an interview with the Associated Press, he was more direct. “I think we’re going to have better choices in 2024,” Pence told the AP. “And I’m very confident that Republican primary voters will vote wisely.”
MarketWatch contributed to this.