Trump 2024’s rivals court his backers at the start of the primary season

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Republicans considering running for the White House in 2024 are gathering in Las Vegas this weekend, with concerned donors and activists openly considering whether or not to support Donald Trump for a third consecutive time.

The former president will be one of the only major Republican candidates not to attend the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting, which organizers say marks the unofficial start of the 2024 presidential primary campaign season.

Trump will speak, but only via video conference, while leading rivals, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence, will deliver keynote addresses in person.

The meeting comes just days after Trump became the first candidate to formally launch a 2024 campaign. His allies initially hoped his early announcement could ward off serious primary challenges, but that’s unlikely after his loyalists lost midterm matches last week in battlefield states from Arizona to Pennsylvania. His political standing within the GOP, already weakening, plummeted further.

“In my eyes, he’s a loser now. He’s an electoral loser,” said former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, another 2024 prospect who attended the Las Vegas rally. “When you look at a general electorate, think I don’t think there’s a Democrat he can beat, because he’s now toxic to suburban voters on a personal level, and he’s earned it.”

There is still a lot of praise for the former president.

“There is no question that what President Trump has accomplished during his four years in terms of strengthening the relationship between the US and Israel has been unparalleled. He was the most pro-Israel president ever,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

But that may not be enough this time to win over the coalition’s top donors, Brooks continued.

“For a lot of people attending this conference, this is about the future,” he said. And for some of them, President Trump might be their answer. For others, they are interested in what others have to say.”

With a sprawling fundraising operation involving small dollar contributions, Trump doesn’t need major donors to reach the GOP nomination for a third time. But the reluctance of big-buck Republicans to commit to him — at least for now — could signal a much broader shift in a party that has been defined almost entirely by its allegiance to Trump for the past six years.

The Republican Jewish Coalition’s two-day speaking program, which begins Friday, features DeSantis, a leading Trump rival, and Pence, who blames Trump for not rolling back the 2020 election. Other speakers include former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and Florida Sen. Rick Scott.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, another potential 2024 contender, canceled his appearance following a shooting at the University of Virginia on Sunday that left three dead.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who could become the speaker of the House when the Republicans take over in January, is also on the agenda.

Ahead of his Friday night speech, Mike Pompeo mocked one of Trump’s slogans: “We were told we were going to get tired of winning. But I’m tired of losing.”

The annual event takes place at the Venetian Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip and is a nod to Sheldon Adelson, the longtime benefactor of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a billionaire casino magnate who died last year. His wife Miriam Adelson remains a fundraising force within the GOP, though her donation level in the recent midterm elections, which exceeded $20 million, was scaled back somewhat.

76-year-old Israeli-born Miriam Adelson “remains neutral” in the 2024 GOP presidential primaries, according to Andy Abboud, the family’s longtime political gatekeeper.

But that hasn’t stopped ambitious Republicans from courting her.

The Adelsons donated $172.7 million during the 2020 presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which set a new record for donations in a single election and was the second-largest donor in both parties more than three times. Over the past decade, they’ve donated nearly half a billion dollars to Republican candidates and charities.

And while the Adelsons have been prominent supporters of Trump in the past, Miriam Adelson is unwilling to commit to him as the next presidential primary season gets underway.

She is not alone among the major donors and party leaders.

Stephen A. Schwarzman, a former Trump backer, chairman and CEO of the investment firm Blackstone Group, told Axios this week that he would support someone from a “new generation” of Republicans. Kenneth C. Griffin, the hedge fund billionaire, already openly supports DeSantis.

In an interview this week, Pence slammed Trump and his loyalists by noting that mid-term Republican candidates who were “focused on the past, especially those who tried to re-litigate the last election, didn’t fare as well.”

More than any other position or policy, Trump has been consumed with lies about his loss in 2020 since leaving office. He supported dozens of candidates in 2022, largely based on whether they embraced his baseless claims. Many of them lost last week.

“I think we’ll have better choices in 2024,” Pence told The Associated Press. “And I have every confidence that Republican primary voters will choose wisely.”

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