Trump takes incoming fire from potential GOP nomination rivals in first big cattle call of 2024

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – He remains the dominant figure in the GOP and the heavyweight in the burgeoning race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, but former President Donald Trump’s firm grip on the party he transformed appears to be loosening.

The former president took repeated fire this weekend in Las Vegas at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting, a gathering of party activists and donors seen as the first major GOP beef call in the next White House race.

“The Republican Party is a much bigger, more powerful party than it was before I got there,” Trump said in a live remote address to the confab that was added to the schedule at the last minute.

Trump spoke Saturday, four days after following up nearly two years of flirtation by officially launching a third campaign for the White House. The former president’s announcement came a week after a lackluster performance by his party in the midterm elections. The GOP failed to win a majority in the Senate, lost key gubernatorial races and secured a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives – disappointing Republican expectations of a “red wave” election.

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People listen as former President Donald Trump speaks remotely at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas.

People listen as former President Donald Trump speaks remotely at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas.
(AP)

A growing number of Republicans in the wake of the midterm elections have criticized the former president for boosting the far-right MAGA-style candidates — who backed Trump’s unproven claims that the 2020 election was stolen — who won the GOP primaries but ended up losing in a decisive and competitive general. election showdown.

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Citing Republican setbacks in the 2018 midterms (in which they lost the majority in the House of Representatives), the 2020 elections (in which the party lost the White House and the Senate majority) and last week’s midterm elections, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie argued, “ We keep losing and losing and losing, and the reason we’re losing is because Donald Trump has put himself before everyone else.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas.
(AP)

“It’s time to stop whispering. It’s time to stop the knowing nods that we can’t talk. It’s time to stop being afraid of a person,” stressed Christie, a Trump ally , who became a critic. “I’m ready for that fight.”

Christie, who ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016 before dropping out and endorsing Trump, is considering his own bid for the White House in 2024. So is Maryland-bound Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, another vocal Republican Trump critic.

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“Trump said we were going to win so much we were going to get tired of winning. Well, I’m tired of our party losing. This is the third election in a row that we lost and should have won,” Hogan argued in his speech. “I say three strikes and you’re out.”

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas.
(AP)

And New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, in his speech to applause, said that “I have a great policy for the Republican Party. Let’s stop supporting crazy, unelectable candidates in our primaries and start getting behind winners who can close the deal in November.”

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Former Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s right-hand man during their four years together in the White House, refrained from criticizing his former boss during his speech Friday night at the conference.

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, in Las Vegas.

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, in Las Vegas.
(AP)

But Pence, who is likely to launch a presidential bid next year, said in a Fox News interview that the common denominator in the midterms was that “candidates who focused on the future did well. Candidates who focused on the past or brought lawsuits about the past did it not also fare.”

Asked if Trump deserved some blame, the former vice president replied: “I would say that my former running mate was one of those who talked about the past, and it was not helpful.”

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Another Trump administration veteran who is seriously entertaining a presidential candidate — former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — told Fox News that Trump’s announcement would not be a factor in his own decision-making process.

“If you’re running for president of the United States, you’d better damn well believe that you’ve got the steel-backed intellectual capacity and maturity to be the commander-in-chief of the most important country in the history of civilization. And if you believe that it shouldn’t matter who the hell you get in the race, if you’re the only one or if there’s 15 of you,” Pompeo said.

Late. Ted Cruz of Texas — the runner-up to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential race — appeared to be taking himself out of the race for the White House in 2024, telling reporters that “I’m running for re-election in the Senate.”

But Cruz, who did not rule out a presidential run, appeared to indirectly take a verbal shot at Trump.

There are plenty of people who want to point the finger at Donald Trump and point to the quality of candidates,” Cruz said.

“The quality of the candidates matters. I mean, some of the nominees, especially some of the gubernatorial nominees who raised almost no money, didn’t run TV commercials and didn’t really run a campaign, heck, this is serious business,” Cruz stressed out. “If you can’t raise money and run a campaign, then step aside and let the adults do the work that needs to be done. So I’m frustrated when my party puts up candidates who have no realistic chance of success.”

RJC executive director Matt Brooks said he was not surprised by all the arrows hurled at the former president.

“Once you’ve become a candidate, you put a big target on your back and say ‘I’m in this, it’s on’.” The fact that this is happening now is a manifestation of how early this election season is beginning, he told Fox News.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas.
(AP)

Trump was arguably outshined at the confab by the politician who political forecasters see as potentially the former president’s biggest threat for the 2024 nomination — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

While Trump spoke early Saturday afternoon, DeSantis wrapped up the conference by giving the keynote address Saturday night.

DeSantis touted his landslide re-election victory and his conservative stock against what he calls “woke ideology” in an energetic speech that brought a crowd of leading Republican activists and donors to their feet several times.

“We have accomplished more over a four-year period than anyone thought possible,” the governor said.

Speaking before DeSantis was former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Las Vegas.
(AP)

Haley repeatedly teased a potential Republican presidential run in 2024, telling the crowd that “between us, I’m just getting started.”

“A lot of people have asked if I’m going to run for president,” Haley said to cheers. “Now that the midterms are over, I’m going to look at it in a serious way.”

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Ari Fleischer, who served as a spokesman in then-President George W. Bush’s White House and sits on the RJC board, emphasized that “there are going to be a lot of people taking action. And you can feel it in this room.”

“People are open-minded. People can change their minds a few times. People want to shop,” added the longtime Republican communicator and Fox News contributor.

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