LAS VEGAS – Former President Donald Trump tossed his hat into the 2024 ring this week, but that likely won’t clear the field in the battle for the Republican nomination.
This weekend, some of Trump’s best-known potential GOP rivals will gather in Las Vegas for what’s being viewed as the first major Republican cattle call in the burgeoning race for the White House.
As Fox News first reported last month, some of the biggest names in the GOP who are considered likely or possible White House contenders will be speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) annual leadership meeting.
The confab kicked off on Thursday night at the Venetian Hotel Resort and Casino with speeches from term-limited Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and former New Jersey governor and 2016 presidential candidate Chris Christie.
Among those speaking Friday and Saturday are Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State and former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — who served as ambassador to the United Nations under Trump — and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rick Scott of Florida and Tim Scott of South Carolina.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whom pundits also view as a possible White House hopeful, was initially scheduled to address the conference, but canceled his visit after Sunday’s deadly shootings at the University of Virginia.
“This weekend’s Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting, affectionately dubbed the ‘kosher cattle call,’ is going to be the biggest and best political event of the year, where we will once again be welcoming key GOP leaders to Las Vegas,” RJC national political director Sam Markstein told Fox News.
Markstein noted that the “RJC will be celebrating Republicans flipping the U.S. House of Representatives and firing Nancy Pelosi, expanding the number of Jewish Republican Members in Congress, as well as the GOP garnering the largest share of the national Jewish vote in a generation in the midterm elections — including a record-smashing level of support in key states like Florida.”
The RJC’s annual leadership meeting draws top Republican leaders, officials, donors and activists from across the country. Also speaking at this year’s event is Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who recently announced he would not seek the presidency in 2024, and House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, who’s working to succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi as House speaker.
But one leader who won’t be attending in person is Trump, who addressed the RJC crowd last year through a recorded speech. But RJC officials tell Fox News the former president will speak live via satellite to the audience on Saturday morning.
Sources in Trump’s political orbit told Fox News at the beginning of the week that some of the former president’s top aides saw the early 2024 announcement as a move to potentially clear the field of some likely nomination rivals.
Taylor Budowich, head of the Trump aligned super PAC MAGA Inc., insisted in a statement to Fox News Thursday that “President Trump is the most dominant force in American politics. The prospects of an untested field of challengers, all of whom are being recruited by global power-brokers and billionaires, cannot unite the GOP or save America. President Trump stands alone as the sole Republican leader who will take on the corruption, deliver on his promises, and restore American glory.”
Trump, two years since his 2020 presidential election defeat at the hands of President Biden, remains the most popular and influential politician in the GOP, the most ferocious grassroots fundraiser, and remains the leader in early 2024 GOP nomination polling.
But voices of discontent are growing inside the Republican Party as more insiders blame Trump for setbacks in the 2018 midterms (when the GOP lost the House majority), the 2020 election (when Republicans lost the White House and the Senate majority) and the 2022 midterms (when an expected red wave failed to materialize). Moreover, Trump’s standing among party leaders appears to be at its weakest point since the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
While Trump has survived rocky times before and proved those who counted him down wrong, some leading Republicans scoff at the idea that a Trump announcement would drive other potential contenders from the race.
GOP Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire — in an interview at the Republican Governors Association winter meeting in Orlando, Florida just ahead of Trump’s 2024 kick-off event — claimed that the former president is “really making an announcement at one of his weakest political points. We just got crushed in this election. You could make the argument that he’s never been weaker politically.”
“It’s really an announcement from a defensive position,” the governor added. “There’s still going to be a lot of folks that enter this race, probably not until late ’23. And a lot of things are going to change politically between now and then. We still have a long way to go before anything really serious starts moving in terms of 2024.”
Sununu, asked about a potential 2024 run of his own, said, “I don’t rule anything out, any time,” but emphasized that “my priority is New Hampshire, is getting stuff for the state.”
Another Republican leader and vocal critic of Trump is Hogan, who told Fox News at the RGA confab that Trump’s announcement “doesn’t really have any impact on me,” but added “I think it may affect a lot of other people’s decisions.”
Longtime Republican consultants with years of experience in Iowa and New Hampshire — the two states that kick off the Republican presidential nominating calendar — forecast a vigorous nomination battle ahead.
New Hampshire based Jim Merrill, a veteran of numerous GOP presidential campaigns, predicted with Trump in the race, “instead of 12-16 candidates, you might end up getting 6-10.”
But he added that “you’re going to have a robust field. I don’t think he’s [Trump] clearing anybody out. The losses the Republican Party has taken the last three cycles make it clear that people are going to be clamoring for different voices. I think we need to have a competitive primary and I think you’re going to get one…I anticipate that New Hampshire will be in play over the next and several people will campaign vigorously here.”
Longtime GOP consultant David Kochel noted that Trump “is clearly the heavyweight,” but said the former president “is not going to clear the field.”
Kochel, a veteran of numerous GOP presidential campaigns in Iowa and nationally, said “I think you’ll have some people who say they won’t run because Trump’s in. But he’s going to have one or more serious challengers who are going to make a run at him… I would imagine by the end of the first quarter of 2023 we’ll probably know who’s really going to get in.”