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GOP candidates pitch themselves to Republican Jewish Coalition

Updated November 6, 2021 - 8:51 pm

Several potential Republican presidential hopefuls with their sights set on 2024 made their pitches to the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday, even as the image of former President Donald Trump hovered literally and figuratively over the gathering.

The former president, appearing via video, recounted his administration’s move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

“No president has ever been a better friend to the state of Israel, and I’m very proud of that,” Trump said.

And while he gave no hint of his own 2024 plans, Trump predicted Republican success. “The stakes have never been higher,” he said. “And in 2024, we will win back that beautiful white building sometimes referred to as the White House.”

Other candidates, however, were clearly pitching themselves as potential 2024 presidential candidates.

Trump’s former No. 2, Vice President Mike Pence, also highlighted the administration’s record on Israel, including tough sanctions on Iran and moving the embassy, which had been promised for decades but only accomplished under Trump.

“The day we left office the Iranian regime was weaker and more isolated than ever before,” Pence said.

But he said the Biden administration was in danger of reversing those gains.

“President Biden has turned his back on Israel,” Pence told the crowd. “However weak the administration may be, the American people are strong and they will stand with those who stand for freedom.”

Pence criticized the administration for its efforts to undo some of the things accomplished during the Trump years, but encouraged coalition members to “keep the faith.”

Said Pence: “74 million Americans known in their heart that the sun has not set on the land of the free. … God is not done with America or Israel yet, and I know the best days are yet to come.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told the crowd that he’s never been more worried about national security issues than now.

“If they gave an award for somebody screwing up the world, Joe Biden would win it big time,” Graham said. “The winds are moving in our direction politically, and the world is getting more dangerous as I speak.”

Graham would not predict who the GOP nominee would be in 2024.

“I don’t know, but I do know this: Donald Trump was one hell of a president.,” Graham said to applause.

‘Freest state’ governor

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who claimed he was in charge of “the freest state in America,” touted his state’s influx of new residents, which he attributed not only to low taxes but of a hands-off government policy. DeSantis said he’d signed legislation banning so-called ballot harvesting, in which people who are not related to a voter collect ballots for submission to elections offices and prohibited mass mailings of absentee ballots to voters.

He denounced the teaching of “critical race theory” in Florida schools.

“We are not spending taxpayer dollars to teach our kids to hate our country or hate each other. That is not happening,” he said.

Instead, he said his state offers civics education, with a $3,000 bonus to teachers who attend a boot camp on the subject.

DeSantis, who pushed for reopening businesses quickly after the coronavirus pandemic began, denounced vaccine mandates and pledged no one in Florida would lose a job because of a lack of vaccination.

“He (President Biden) does not have the constitutional authority to do what he’s trying to do,” DeSantis said. “No cop, no firefighter, no nurse should be kicked out of their job because of these mandates.”

Not about past grievances

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie acknowledged Trump from the start, saying he was an early endorser and recalling that he’d portrayed both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in Trump debate prep sessions. But he said elections should be about the future, and specifically denounced litigating past losses.

“We can no longer talk about the past, and past elections,” Christie said, to applause. “No matter where you stand on that (2020) election, no matter where you stand, it is over. Every minute that we spend talking about 2020, all the wasted time that we’re there, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are laying ruin to this country. We better focus on that and take our eyes off the rearview mirror and start looking though the windshield.”

Trump and some Republicans have maintained — without evidence — that the 2020 election was stolen because of voter fraud, and the former president has continuously demanded further investigation of the results. The question of the election has bedeviled other Republicans seeking office, including some here in Nevada.

Christie touted his political successes in blue New Jersey, and called for Republicans to focus on “hardworking, working class” people who feel abandoned by Democrats. He denounced a proposal to pay settlements the families of illegal immigrants separated from their families at the border, and encouraged the party to support small business entrepreneurs.

“People want someone to fight for them, but to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt their ears, and you all know what I mean,” Christie said. “Demand … a plan for tomorrow, not a grievance about yesterday.”

Unlike DeSantis, Christie only received only a partial standing ovation at the end of his remarks.

Fighting at the United Nations

Ex-United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley recalled her time at the world body, often repeating stories about the United States’ diplomatic efforts to stand with Israel against criticism from other nations.

“I spoke truth to power (at the U.N.). That’s what I do. That’s what we should all do,” Haley said.

Not only did Haley say she voted against a resolution condemning the United States for moving its embassy to Jerusalem, she said she led efforts to withdraw the country from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the organization’s Human Rights Council over disputes related to Israel.

“The Human Rights Council is a farce for many reasons,” she said. “President Biden is badly wrong to return” to membership there.

Nuke deal panned

Like other speakers, Haley disparaged the Iran nuclear deal as ineffective in stopping that nation from developing nuclear weapons, and she encouraged Israel to do whatever was necessary to stop Iran from developing such devices.

“You cannot count on the Biden administration to stop the Iranian nuclear program, you just can’t,” Haley said. “It is better to be strong and criticized than weak and ignored.”

A spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, in response to a request for comment, criticized candidates who appeared at the event, which was held at The Venetian.

“This weekend, Republicans are bringing their show ponies to Nevada in the form of extremist leaders, COVID-deniers, and conspiracy theorists despite the fact that Nevada has rejected Republicans’ ideological bankruptcy three separate times in the past four years,” a Democratic spokeswoman said in a statement. “While these Republicans are focused on blocking the progress of President Biden in the name of protecting the disastrous legacy of Donald Trump, Democrats are delivering jobs creation, health care, and middle-class tax relief to hardworking Nevadans.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Dr. Miriam Adelson, the majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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