2024 GOP scrambles to court donors in big Las Vegas caucus, and some warn Trump is ‘lost’

The GOP’s nascent class of 2024, bold as ever, openly called Donald Trump a “loser” again and again Friday as he courted donors and activists worried about the GOP’s future under the former president’s leadership.

Trump’s fierce critics included current and former Republican governors, members of his cabinet and major donors who gathered along the Las Vegas strip for what organizers described as the unofficial kickoff to the next presidential primary. It was a remarkable show of defiance for a party that has been defined almost entirely by its loyalty to Trump for the past six years.

“Maybe there’s some blood in the water and the sharks are circling,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican presidential candidate and frequent Trump critic, said in an interview. “I don’t think we’ve ever gotten to this point before.”

The gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting, which began Friday, comes days after Trump became the first candidate to formally launch a 2024 campaign. His allies had hoped his timely announcement could stave off serious challenges, but several potential candidates said that’s unlikely after Trump loyalists lost midterm contests last week in battleground states from Arizona to Pennsylvania. His political standing within the GOP, already on the wane, fell further.

Before his speech Friday night, Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state, mocked one of his former boss’ catchphrases: “They told us we’d get tired of winning. But I’m tired of losing.”

“Personality, celebrity is just not going to cut it,” he later said from the ballroom stage.

Trump is scheduled to address the weekend rally via video conference on Saturday. The vast majority of high-profile Republican officials considering a 2024 White House bid appeared in person at the two-day conference, which included a series of meetings with private donors and public speeches.

The program featured DeSantis, a leading Trump opponent, and Pence, whom Trump accuses of failing to swing the 2020 election. Other speakers included Hogan, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and Florida Senator Rick Scott.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, another potential 2024 candidate, canceled his appearance after Sunday’s shooting at the University of Virginia that left three dead.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who could become House speaker when Republicans take over in January, is also scheduled.

There appeared to be little sympathy for Trump’s latest legal challenges.

Hours before Friday’s inaugural dinner, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into the presence of classified documents at Trump’s Florida estate as well as key aspects of a separate investigation into the insurgency and January 6, 2021 efforts to nullify the 2020 elections.

Sununu, the New Hampshire governor who easily won re-election last week, said there was no sign his party would rally behind Trump this time.

“These are his issues that he needs to work out,” Sununu said. “Everybody’s going to sit and watch the show. And it’s not just his supporters β€” it’s his money, the donors, those fundraisers,” said the Republican governor, who won re-election easily last week. “We’re just moving on.”

With a loyal base of support among longtime voters and a sprawling fundraising operation that includes small-dollar contributions, Trump doesn’t need big donors or party leaders to claim the GOP nomination for a third term. But the reluctance of big-money Republicans to commit to him β€” at least, for now β€” could make his path back to the White House more difficult.

There was no sign of excitement about Trump’s 2024 presidential aspirations in the hallways and boardrooms of the weekend rally. At Friday night’s dinner, organizers offered attendees yarmulkes bearing Trump’s name, but there were few attendees.

This is even as Jewish Republicans continued to praise Trump’s commitment to Israel while in the White House.

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

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

“For many people attending this conference, this is about the future,” Brooks said. β€œAnd for some of them, President Trump may be their answer. For others, they are interested in what others have to say.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie touted Trump’s policy failures during a private dinner with the group’s top donors Thursday. In an interview that followed, he did not back down.

“In my view, he’s now defeated. He’s an electoral loser,” said Christie, another 2024 prospect. “Look at a general electorate, I don’t think there’s a Democrat who can win because he’s now toxic to suburbia on a personal level and has earned it.”

The annual event is being held at the Venetian Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip in a nod to longtime Republican Jewish Coalition benefactor Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino mogul who died last year. His wife Miriam Adelson remains a fundraising force in the GOP, although her level of giving in the recent midterms, which topped $20 million, has declined somewhat.

Israeli-born Miriam Adelson, 76, is “staying neutral” in the 2024 GOP presidential primary, according to the family’s longtime political watchdog Andy Abboud.

She is not alone.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics fortune, has supported Trump’s previous campaigns but does not plan to endorse him in 2024, according to a Lauder spokesman.

Longtime Trump supporter Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman and chief executive 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.

On Friday, the aerospace company’s chief executive, Philip Friedman, described himself as a “big Trump supporter” but said he was open to hearing others come forward.

“There are two other people who have his policies, but they don’t have the baggage,” Friedman said of Trump.

In his keynote speech, Pence focused heavily on the accomplishments of the Trump administration, but included some indirect jabs at the former president.

“To win the future,” Pence said, “we as Republicans and elected leaders must do more than criticize and protest.”

He was more direct in an interview this week.

“I think we’re going to have better options in 2024,” Pence told The Associated Press. “And I’m very confident that Republican primary voters will choose wisely.”

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