Former President Donald Trump is set to address the influential Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday, days after becoming the first declared GOP nominee in the 2024 presidential campaign.
But the lustrous ballroom of the opulent Venetian hotel in Las Vegas will teem with rivals — including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top potential foe — as some of the party’s most influential donors consider alternatives to the divisive former president.
Trump still retains a “following” within the party, Mel Sembler, a Florida real estate developer and GOP donor who serves on the coalition’s board, told CNN this week. But, he said, “I think people get tired of his controversies all the time.”
“What worries me is if he wins the primary and loses the overall,” added Sembler, who did not back a 2024 candidate.
The annual leadership conference of prominent Jewish conservatives marks the first major gathering of GOP establishment forces since the party’s midterm disappointment this month, which saw Democrats retain their grip on the Senate and making inroads in state governments across the country.
Republicans flipped the House but will hold a narrow majority in January after the “red wave” their party had envisioned all year failed to materialize.
Prominent Republican figures in Washington and elsewhere are blaming Trump for his role in promoting far-right Senate candidates who failed in the general election — and for continuing to publicly harbor his own grievances about the 2020 election and his ongoing legal issues. Kicking off his campaign on Tuesday, he called himself a “victim” of a federal law enforcement system he has spent years politicizing.
Trump’s legal troubles appeared to escalate on Friday when Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to oversee criminal investigations into the retention of national defense information at his Mar-a-Lago compound and parts of the uprising of January 6, 2021.
Rather than seeing the party unite behind his third presidential bid, Trump faced an immediate backlash. Minutes after her announcement, daughter and former senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump distanced herself from her father’s campaign, saying she was “not considering getting involved in politics.”
His announcement also coincided with a high-profile book tour of his own former vice president – and potential 2024 rival – Mike Pence, who has spent the past few days reminding Americans of Trump’s role in the violent riot in the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Perhaps the biggest blow to Trump’s campaign infrastructure was the swift and public defection of several GOP billionaire donors — including close ally Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman — who said the country had need leaders “rooted today and tomorrow, not today and yesterday”.
Others hedge their bets.
Among those playing the court is Miriam Adelson, the billionaire widow of Las Vegas casino magnate and RJC benefactor Sheldon Adelson. The Adelsons have donated nearly half a billion dollars to Republican groups and candidates over the past four election cycles — including tens of millions to boost Trump’s presidential ambitions, according to federal records.
In 2018, Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — to Miriam Adelson, citing her philanthropy.
Despite the relationship, Adelson intends to remain neutral in the GOP presidential primaries, an aide confirmed to CNN this week. Adelson, whose political contributions have slowed some since her husband’s death in January 2021, indicated that she would financially support the eventual GOP nominee, whether it be Trump or someone else.
RJC executive director Matt Brooks said Trump was applauded by coalition members for his unwavering support for Israel during his presidency and his unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Still, Brooks said, “People are window shopping right now. There are people asking if we need a new direction and a new face.
Even as Trump prepares to make his case at the RJC, his allies and aides have sought to position him as the underdog of the 2024 contest, despite his recent occupation of the White House.
“President Trump is running a campaign that represents everyday Americans who love their country,” campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement to CNN. “There are others who will answer to the political establishment, be beholden to corporations, and drag the United States into more unnecessary wars.”
And his allies note that Trump’s fundraising operation relies heavily on a small-donor base, reducing his dependence on the party elite and giving him a potential advantage over opponents who don’t brag about the same game of small donations.
He enters the 2024 campaign with more than $100 million in cash reserves in a sprawling network of political committees — though federal law may limit his ability to fully tap those funds for his campaign.
“He’s proven that he can raise a lot of money on his own,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump administration official who remains close to the former president, told CNN recently.
Trump is not making the trip to Las Vegas but is expected to address the rally live via satellite on Saturday as part of a morning lineup that will feature several other potential rivals for the GOP nomination, including the Carolina senator South Tim Scott, newly re-elected New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Trump’s remote appearance was announced on Thursday, after it became clear that several of his potential 2024 rivals were expected to deliver remarks of their own.
DeSantis – fresh from the momentum of his double-digit re-election victory in Florida – is due to address the group on Saturday night at its gala dinner.
Trump has recently stepped up his attacks on DeSantis and another potential 2024 challenger, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin.
Two sources familiar with Trump’s thinking said part of the reason he lashed out is because he believes the two governors are actively soliciting support from “his donors.” Trump told his aides and allies that DeSantis was especially trying to pitch himself to deep-pocketed Republicans who helped fund Trump’s re-election campaign.
A Republican fundraiser in Florida with knowledge of DeSantis’ political operations said, “Of course he talks to these people. It’s fair game and every Republican is going to go after these donors because it’s the smartest thing to do, it’s not with the “let’s fuck Trump” mindset.
The conservative Club for Growth, one of the biggest outside spenders in politics, has already broken with Trump and earlier this week circulated an internal poll suggesting DeSantis could issue a serious challenge to the former president in states to early voting and in Florida, where both reside. The group has invested $2 million in DeSantis’ re-election efforts this election cycle, according to Florida campaign documents.
David McIntosh, the former Indiana congressman who leads the group, declined an interview request from CNN through a spokesperson.
This week, as the contours of the GOP’s new House majority became clear — DeSantis won praise from national Republicans for injecting himself into the congressional map this year. In a rare move for a governor, DeSantis pushed state lawmakers to pass his map, which controversially eliminated two districts represented by black Democrats and gave the GOP the edge in no less than 20 of 28 districts.
“This map created four new Republican wins,” said a GOP consultant who has been close to Trump and asked not to be named to speak candidly about the 2024 race. conservative governor who stands up to his own party and says. “We’re not going to make deals and do things the old fashioned way.”
DeSantis this week sought to dodge questions about the growing rivalry with Trump, urging people to “relax a bit” – even as he touted his 19-point winning margin in re-election. CNN previously reported that those close to DeSantis believe he has no plans to announce his plans until May.
“The smartest thing DeSantis can do is stay out of the fray for as long as possible,” the Republican consultant said. “Don’t put your face in the frying pan too soon.”