He made no reference to comments he made just two weeks ago criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and calling Hezbollah “very smart” in the wake of attacks in Israel that left 1,400 dead . The crowd didn’t seem to be focusing on them either.
“People judge him for what he does,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the RJC, referring to elements of Trump’s record, such as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, “as opposed to the noise.” .
Moments earlier, a starker illustration of Trump’s hold on the party came when his former vice president, Mike Pence, announced he was suspending his campaign. The former vice president was almost out of money and unlikely to participate in the debate in less than two weeks. But his departure from the race, for many in the party, represented something bigger than tactical obstacles: proof that there was no reward for those who resisted Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the elections. 2020 elections.
Trump, in his speech, didn’t even bother to mention his vice president.
Instead, he acknowledged the presence of several of his supporters, including “Pawn Stars” host Rick Harrison. The former president is expected to have dinner Saturday night with Republican mega-donor Miriam Adelson, the widow of casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. The planned dinner was first reported by The Messenger.
“He has an incredible reservoir of goodwill within the Jewish community,” Brooks said. “He is the favorite in an area where there are several candidates, and there are also people who support the other candidates. … But today’s response showed you beyond doubt the strength of his support.”
Few, if any, politicians can weather crises like Trump, who has survived more than a handful of episodes that experts said would lead to his political demise. But his primary campaign was defined less by policy missteps (despite his legal troubles) than by how he avoided them.
Trump reduced his media visibility, avoided the stadium rallies that marked his previous campaigns and refused to participate in the two primary debates. His participation in the RJC forum was notable, not only because it followed his praise of Hezbollah’s fighting capabilities, but also because he was so rarely present at events attended by his fellow candidates.
For Trump’s rivals, the conference was perhaps the last chance they would have to share the stage with the former president before the Iowa caucuses in January. And before that, we expected fireworks.
Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who emerged as one of Trump’s main rivals, took the hardest hits.
“As president, I will not compliment Hezbollah,” she said. “I will also not criticize the Israeli Prime Minister in the midst of tragedy and war.”
Haley said the country could not afford “four years of chaos, vendettas and drama” and suggested that Trump would not be the party’s strongest candidate in the general election.
“Republicans,” she said, “need a candidate who can actually win.”
But others only made more oblique sweeps.
“We’re going to continue to have poor results unless we change horses and new people are elected to leadership,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another Trump rival.
But there seemed to be little appetite in the room to attack the favorite. When former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Trump’s most outspoken critic, took the stage, he was booed.
Trump, for his part, stayed above the fray and did not hit his opponents. Instead, he used his speech to promote his record defending Israel and to attack President Joe Biden’s Middle East policies, sometimes with blemishes and bravado. He said his administration had given Israel “sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” referring to a proclamation he issued saying the United States recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the region. He said he would have brought Iran into the Abraham Accords, the diplomatic framework he used to normalize Arab nations’ relations with Israel, ignoring his record disparaging diplomacy with that country.
The RJC rally, held at the Venetian Resort on the Las Vegas Strip, comes at a critical time in the GOP primary. Non-Trump campaigns, primarily DeSantis’, had viewed the period between Labor Day and the Iowa caucuses in mid-January as the time when ground could be gained on the former president.
But Trump’s lead remains both steady and intimidating. And his decision to avoid the debate phase had deprived his rivals of the opportunity to challenge him directly.
The hope among non-Trump campaigns was that the pack would win, allowing a two- or three-person race. For this reason, Pence’s departure will likely be seen as a positive development in some circles.
“They have to fight before they can beat Trump. Trump is in the lead by far, and so only one person will challenge him, I presume, in a runoff. And so they need to get rid of their real competitors before they take on Donald Trump,” said Fred Zeidman, a major Republican Party donor in attendance who supports Haley.
But the former vice president received very few votes in the primaries, according to polls. And we do not yet know who will benefit from the suspension of his campaign. At least one prominent Republican used the announcement not to celebrate the possibility of a narrower field, but to call on everyone not named Trump to follow suit.
“I was surprised, but I think it’s the right decision,” said Montana Sen. Steve Daines, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who supported Trump. “Because it is clear that President Trump will be the Republican nominee for president, and the sooner we rally around him, the better.”