Former President Donald Trump, who recently announced his 2024 presidential bid, will likely face some tough Republican challengers if the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Annual Leadership Meeting at The Venetian this weekend was any indication.
Although the 2022 midterms are not over — with states still canvassing votes and Georgia’s U.S. Senate race scheduled for a runoff in December — Democrats and Republicans have started preparing for the 2024 presidential elections.
Republican figureheads toying with the idea of running against Trump spoke to hundreds of attendees this weekend about their visions for the country, the importance of the country’s alliance with Israel and how the Republican Party can be more successful in future elections.
Some of Trump’s potential challengers took swings at the former president — such as that he tweeted too much as president or touted false claims of election fraud — and received cheering, applause and standing ovations from the crowd, signaling a different path some Republicans want to take with the party’s leadership in 2024.
Rather than criticizing his potential opponents, Trump, speaking via livestream Saturday, highlighted his accomplishments to help the Jewish community, including opening an American embassy in Jerusalem, withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran and signing the Abraham Accords to create peace.
“Under my administration we fought for Israel and the Jewish community like no president in history,” Trump said, receiving a standing ovation from the audience.
“We better hope that a certain person wins the election in 2024,” said Trump, who also touted false claims that the 2020 election was “rigged” against him.
Big names such as Ron DeSantis, Ted Cruz, Kevin McCarthy, Chris Christie and Mike Pence appeared in person. On Friday, speakers included Pence, Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland.
Trump was the “pil” in the room, meaning “elephant” in Hebrew, said Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush and current media consultant and political aide. As a former president, he has a lot of strength, Fleischer said, but a lot of people are still ”shopping” for what kind of candidate they want to run for president in 2024.
“People are open-minded. People might change their minds a couple of times. They want to shop. Which again is great for democracy,” Fleischer said.
But very few candidates will have the courage to take on Trump, Fleischer said.
“It is possible to beat Donald Trump, it is also possible to lose to Donald Trump. If there’s five, six, seven real conservative-outsider candidates, Donald Trump will win the plurality. If there’s only one, two, it’s a fair fight,” said Fleischer.
Push for ‘party of we,’ not ‘party of me’
Former New Jersey Gov. Christie, who is considering another run for president, talked about how he was the first candidate to leave the presidential campaign in 2016 and endorse Trump, and he worked hard to make the Trump presidency as successful as possible. But he stopped supporting Trump in 2020, he said, receiving a lot of applause from the audience.
When Trump told the American people that the election was stolen with no evidence, “That’s where it ended for me,” Christie said. For every moment since then, “our party has been diminished by that lack of leadership.”
Trump had said the party will keep winning so much that it will get tired of winning, Christie said, but “since that night in 2016, politically as a party, we’ve done nothing but lose.”
Christie urged the audience to pick a leader who will make the Republican Party the “party of we” instead of the “party of me.”
“We keep losing and losing and losing. And the fact of the matter is, the reason we’re losing is because Donald Trump has put himself before everybody else,” Christie said.
“I choose a party steeped in conservatism,” Christie said, with principles of “strength, faith, decency, integrity, freedom, liberty and to make sure that we have a country that we bring together, not a country that we tear apart around those principles.”
‘Think, fight, persuade and mobilize’
In order for the Republican Party to win, it must “think, fight, persuade and mobilize,” voters, said Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. It should also take a move from the Democrats’ playbook in energizing its base while attracting new voters.
“They went hard left, they energized their base, they govern as left-wing lunatics, and their voters rewarded them by showing up in big numbers,” Cruz said.
The party also needs to stop “preaching to the choir” and attract young, Hispanic and Black voters, he said.
Cruz asked the crowd to take out their phones and subscribe to his podcast called Verdict, before clarifying those who could use their phones, since many Jewish people who strictly observe the Sabbath refrain from using electrical devices then.
Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina and another potential presidential candidate in 2024, rallied the crowd when he encouraged them to stand against antisemitism.
“Will you rise with me and fight against antisemitism wherever it raises its ugly head?” Scott said.
Scott talked about his accomplishments in battling antisemitism, such as introducing the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act and working with Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen to launch the Senate Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations.
“If we are going to be a great nation, we must first be a good nation,” Scott said, and one of the ways to do that is to stand up against antisemitism, hate and racism, he said.
Need to attract independent voters
Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, who is not ruling out a presidential bid, said at the event that a “course correction” is not needed, going against Hogan’s words Friday. But the Republican Party does need to do a better job of attracting independent voters, Sununu said. He also pronounced Nevada incorrectly and misstated that it was still counting votes from the midterms.
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida “challenged the status quo” last week in D.C. when he ran for Republican Senate leader and lost to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. On Saturday, he urged Republicans to make sure Herschel Walker wins the Georgia Senate race in December.
“We should stop compromising. We should make the Democrats compromise,” Scott said. “I want to thank everybody for caring so much about this country to demand that we actually do something.”
Florida Gov. DeSantis, who polls show will be Trump’s toughest opponent to beat if DeSantis decides to run, will speak Saturday night, though likely not before the Review-Journal’s print deadline.
Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy, who could replace Nancy Pelosi as House speaker, spoke about fentanyl deaths caused by an open southern border.
“When I become speaker, we’re going to move a hearing down on the border,” McCarthy said, and legislation will pass to secure the border.
McCarthy did not hint at any Republican presidential candidate that he’d prefer, but instead criticized President Joe Biden and talked about the increased diversity of the Republican Party.
“We have more Hispanic Republicans, more Black Republicans, more Jewish Republicans, more women, we are filling the boat to make it look all like America. Why? Because our policies are right,” McCarthy said.
About a third of Jewish adults vote Republican, with seven out of 10 identifying with or leaning toward the Democratic Party, according to Pew Research.
One question that arose from the event over the weekend was how to increase that percentage for Republicans. Former Sen. Norm Coleman from Minnesota who chairs the Republican Jewish Coalition said Jewish Republicans need to do a better job of reaching out to friends and relatives and explaining how Republican policies will benefit them.
Contact Jessica Hill at [email protected] Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.