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Trump, potential GOP presidential candidates speak at RJC event in Vegas

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.

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.

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.

“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 (or) two, it’s a fair fight,” said Fleischer.

‘I have only begun to fight’

Florida Gov. DeSantis, who polls show will be Trump’s toughest opponent to beat if DeSantis decides to run, energized the audience on Saturday, with some standing on the side of the stage to watch his speech.

“I have only begun to fight,” he told the audience.

He talked about his accomplishments to help Jewish people since elected governor in 2018, including fighting Airbnb for “discriminating against Israeli Jews,” providing financial support for security in Jewish day schools and enhancing Holocaust education standards, he said.

“We’re all about exercising leadership and delivering results for the people that we represent,” DeSantis said.

Throwing digs at states like Nevada where it took a week to count votes in the midterms, DeSantis mentioned Florida’s election rules and how its results were out on Election Night.

Ballot “harvesting,” or collecting ballots for another person, is illegal in Florida, DeSantis said. But in places where it is legal, Republicans need to ballot harvest like Democrats to do better in the elections.

DeSantis drew national criticism from LGBTQ communities in March 2022 when he signed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for students in kindergarten through third grade. DeSantis stood by that decision, saying that it is wrong to teach a child gender ideology.

“Anything you do that is meaningful, you are going to have people that are going to shoot at you. .. You gotta be willing to stand strong. You gotta be willing to take those hits and keep on going,” DeSantis said.

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.

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.

‘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.

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 and unite

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.”

Former United Nations Ambassador and former North Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Saturday she will look at running for president in 2024 in a “serious way.”

“Between us, I’m just getting started,” Haley said.

When talking about Biden’s plans to sign a nuclear deal with Iran, Haley said, “I will make you a promise. I’ve said it before. The next president will shred it on her first day in office.”

It was disheartening to see the party lose more than expected, Haley said, but she does not think it was due to a particular person or to bad candidates. Rather, the Democrats outraised Republicans and pushed voters to vote early, she said. Division among the Republican Party also contributed to the losses.

“It is time to quit eating our own,” Haley said.

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.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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