2024 Republican rivals put Trump on notice

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LAS VEGAS — If former President Donald Trump thought his announcement in early 2024 would force potential Republican primary rivals into submission, he clearly miscalculated.

At this weekend’s Republican Jewish Coalition Conference, a parade of ambitious Republicans hit all the notes that politicians eyeing future White House campaigns typically do. Their tones and messages varied — few mentioned Trump by name — but collectively they made it clear that they will not fall back on the former president after a third consecutive bad election with him at the helm.

Mike Pompeo, Trump’s hand-picked secretary of state and CIA director, warned that Republicans can’t simply “go on TBEN News or send tweets” to win elections. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who led Trump’s transition, said the Republicans were losing because “Donald Trump has put himself above everyone else.”

Nikki Haley, Trump’s UN ambassador who said last year she wouldn’t run if her former boss did, has apparently changed her mind. She used her Saturday night speech here to say she looked at running in a “serious way” and to call for “a younger generation to lead across the board”.

The 2024 hopefuls’ speeches at The Venetian Resort here showed just how little reverence Trump is receiving in the wake of his campaign announcement last week. They increasingly see him as beatable. And its launch two years after the next election – with a special counsel now hovering over him – has created a large and lasting target for the selection of alternatives.

“He’s not going to get the financial backing he had, he’s not going to get the internal backing he had before,” said New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, whose state is hosting the GOP’s first primary. “And that’s why there’s an opportunity there. That political weakness is blood in the water for some people.”

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“Now he will still be a player, but he will be just one of a dozen,” added Sununu. “He doesn’t clear the field in any way.”

Trump has, of course, been left for dead many times politically. And despite the incoming fire he faces, many Republicans consider him the early favorite to win the nomination. Some say the willingness of others to jump into the race could boost his chances, potentially creating a repeat of the 2016 primary, when he triumphed over a splintered field of Republican opponents.

Speaking via video at the conference on Saturday, Trump received rapturous applause. Many in the pro-Israel audience view the former president as a hero, partly because of his decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

At the same time, Republican donors, activists and strategists said the midterms had left Trump bruised and vulnerable — an invitation for his future successors to stall.

While Pompeo has appeared before the Republican public in recent years in preparation for a 2024 bid, his remarks at this weekend’s conference may have been the furthest he’s gone. Pompeo noted that he had been “loyal” throughout his tenure in the administration, but said his loyalty was “not to any person, party or faction” — a not-so-veiled reference to Trump.

He also suggested that Trump deserved some responsibility for the interim failure, arguing, “Personality and celebrity just don’t get it done. We can see that. The American people didn’t want to look back, they wanted to move forward. They care about what happens tomorrow, not what happened yesterday.”

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Haley also got her digs. While the former UN ambassador and governor of South Carolina said “one person” didn’t deserve the blame for the midterm elections, she noted that “we don’t need more politicians who just want to go on TV and talk about our problems.”

Christie and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, meanwhile, used their behind-closed-door performances for a group of major donors to trash the former president. And during their Saturday morning public speeches, Hogan argued that voters had “sent a clear message that they want to turn the page,” while Christie called on the party to “stop being afraid of one person.”

Two Republicans used their speeches to tease their candidacy. Haley told the crowd to applaud that she “never lost an election and I’m not going to start now.” And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — currently Trump’s most formidable potential rival — concluded his Saturday night keynote address by stating, “I can tell you this: We have a lot more to do and I’m just getting started. with fighting.”

Trump is not only facing resistance from Republicans who want to run. Several major donors who gathered on the Las Vegas Strip this weekend indicated they weren’t ready to get behind Trump again either. Many said they wanted to hear from his future opponents. Former Vice President Mike Pence used his time at the event to meet with some of them, in between his speech and a book signing.

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However, it was the absence of one mega-donor that was most telling. Miriam Adelson, the party’s most sought-after contributor and the RJC’s most prominent supporter, has made it known that she has no intention of getting involved in the primary — for Trump or anyone else. Adelson — who, with her late husband, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, was Trump’s biggest benefactor during the 2020 election — skipped this year’s event to take a trip to Israel instead.

It was seen as a tacit indication of her lack of interest in participating in the race.

“Nobody has a monopoly on 2024 anymore,” said RJC executive director Matt Brooks, who has long been close to many of the party’s top donors. “Everyone wants to see where it goes in the future. I think everyone is at a point where they no longer want to look back, but want to look forward.”

“I think people are really shopping,” added Brooks. “As far as the people here go, I think the field is wide open to earn support in 2024.”

DeSantis generated the most attention at the event. After taking the stage, those in attendance rushed to the stage to take pictures of the newly re-elected governor.

Sununu, who sat in a conference room on the fourth floor on Saturday, said New Hampshire voters are “open to alternatives” to Trump — and that DeSantis “could” be the front-runner in the state.

“It’s not a runaway, and he’s the former goddamn president. How can that be?” Sununu said of Trump. “If you are a former president and you are not clearing the field, what the hell are you doing?”

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