GOP 2016 hopefuls address big donors in Vegas
March 29th, 2014
08:19 PM ET
4 months ago

GOP 2016 hopefuls address big donors in Vegas

(CNN) - They may have their sights set on the White House, but Saturday they were in Sin City, talking up donation high rollers.

Several GOP leaders spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition's annual spring leadership meeting in Las Vegas, where some of the party's most influential donors and fundraisers meet to talk politics and policy.

 

The crowd drew big political names, many of whom are potential contenders for the presidential nomination in 2016: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Walker and Kasich, red governors in battleground states that voted for President Barack Obama last cycle, were received warmly, but it was Christie who appeared to have captured the audience's hearts, minds and, potentially, pocketbooks.

One of the biggest pocketbooks there belongs to prominent Republican donor and billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson, who has spent tens of millions of dollars supporting conservative candidates, met privately with all the presidential contenders, a source told CNN, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was at the summit earlier in the week.

Fresh off a scandal that has shaken up his administration, welcomed with a standing ovation, Christie came out swinging, positioning himself as a leader who can win on the national stage.

"As Republicans, you might be interested, once again, in winning elections. I know I am - and see, I'm not in this business to have an academic conversation. I am not in this business to win the argument. I am in this business to win elections. And here's why: Because when we win elections, we get a chance to govern," he said.

While his political ambitions have been bruised by the so-called “Bridgegate,” Christie was quick to point out what he learned from the experience.

“It’s about me being a lot more questioning about things that are going on, not to just trust based upon long-term relationships or past performances, and it’s about sending very clear signals… to not only the people who you serve, but to the people who serve with you, that certain conduct and actions are acceptable and certain are completely unacceptable,” he said.

Christie and some other 2016 contenders have exchanged barbs. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum took a not-so-veiled swipe at Christie at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference this year, saying principles were more important than wins.

Christie has made clear he disagrees, arguing he is a decisive leader who can get things done. That kind of leadership is missing in America today, especially at the White House, he says.

"When I say something, I mean it - and I am willing to do difficult things that will be perceived differently by some, and maybe even poorly by some. But if I believe it in my heart, and I believe it's what the people I lead need, then I'm going to do it without care or concern for the consequence," he said.

"In New Jersey, no one has to wonder whether I'm for them or against them. There's never really a cloud of indecision around what I say and what I do," he added later.

Christie's address focused mainly on that idea of leadership as well as domestic issues, but he dipped into foreign policy toward the end, especially when asked about his April 2012 trip to Israel.

It was while reflecting on how "overwhelming" and "extraordinary" that trip was that he caused a bit of a stir, using two words that some in the largely Jewish, pro-Israel audience took offense to.

"I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day," he said.

In response, there were some “audible murmurs” in the crowd, according to Time magazine’s Zeke Miller who was in the room.

The term "occupied territories" is a cause of dispute and controversy. Palestinians, along with the United Nations, consider the West Bank to be Palestinian, but under military occupation by Israel. Israel says that the land is "disputed," arguing the Palestinians do not have a legitimate claim to all of it.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, downplayed the concerns, telling CNN Christie "wasn't trying to set policy. He just misspoke in the moment."

Miller noted as well that Christie “was very well received, much more positive than the other governors.”

For all the talk of 2016 surrounding the speeches, one speaker was quick to push back.

"Any Republican who's talking about anything other than 2014 is doing a disservice both to the party and to the country," said Wisconsin’s Walker, who focused his speech on solutions the Republican Party can offer for the country's problems.

In particular, he praised the 29 Republican governors who, he says, have led the country on the road to recovery. Their success makes them better fit for the Oval Office, he said, adding that the next GOP presidential nominee must be someone "from outside Washington."

"If we want to have a strong America, if we want to have a healthy economy, look to the states - because in the states we're talking about growth and opportunity," he said.

"We're the ones at forefront of getting things done. We're the ones who make things happen," he said later.

Among those things, he cited turning a $3.6 billion budget deficit in Wisconsin into a near billion-dollar surplus, lowering the 9.2% unemployment rate by three points, and convincing people that the state is heading in the right direction: Ninety-five percent of Wisconsin business owners say so, he said.

"When you reform things, you make them more efficient, more effective, more accountable to the public," Walker added, arguing the GOP cannot be the party of austerity or "less," but of "more" - "more freedom, more opportunity, more prosperity."

Walker is up for re-election this fall after a bitter recall election in 2012. At the time, significant protests nearly shut down the state Capitol after Walker proposed a controversial bill that scaled back collective bargaining rights for most state workers and cut the education budget.

"Third time in four years running for governor - I'm getting pretty good at it," he said to laughs.

For Kasich, who is up for re-election this fall, the summit was a chance to talk domestic policy. In his address, he focused on his family and his record in the governor's office, highlighting the economic turnaround in the key battleground state.

"In Ohio, we're no longer fly over, Sheldon. We want you to come. We want you to invest. We want you to get to know us because Ohio really is the heart of it all, and it's a place of miracles - just think about the University of Dayton in the Elite 8 today," he said, referring to the NCAA college basketball tournament.

Kasich made repeated references and addresses to "Sheldon," talking as if he and Adelson were chatting at an intimate affair.

–CNN's Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.


Filed under: Chris Christie • John Kasich • Scott Walker • Sheldon Adelson
soundoff (181 Responses)
  1. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Adelson is the GOP's Caesar.

    March 30, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  2. happyfrenchman

    Yes. Sheldon Adelson... there is a guy we need having influence over our country.

    March 30, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  3. rl

    The are their frontrunners?

    March 30, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  4. Josh

    Well, in the end, while both parties will have big donors spending ad dollars to tell us their opinions, every individual in this country votes and we do decide who wins...You don't buy elections...You buy people's opinions/minds by bombarding them with info till they believe it...Solution to all this is not "protesting in the streets ", it is voting for the candidate you want....We the people vote. Billionaires still only get one vote, FYI.

    March 30, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  5. Robert

    Lizzie, you probably don't remember or perhaps you choose to forget but where was the outrage when Daniel Foy was killed in Karachi on 2 March 2006? Other attacks in the first decade also include: 9 people killed when al-Qaeda attacked the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia 6Dec 2006 (9 killed); the terrorist attack on the US Embassy in Sana, Yemen 17 Sep 2008 (2 Americans killed). There were others as well. Shall we talk about the abduction and assasination of LTC Willian Buckley in March 1984? Where was the outrage by conservatives then. Oh yeah, St Ronny was the President then – can't talk bad about him. The bombing of the Marines in Beirut – that happened under St Ronny as well. What happened? We left. Is St Ronny a craven coward? Probably not given your weltanschaung.

    March 30, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  6. paul

    Oh come on now, how many rich Jewish millionaires and billionaires could there possibly be in the US?

    March 30, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  7. Phred

    Good for them. No sense seeking the approval middle class citizens. It's all about the Benjamins. We do have thw best politicians that money can buy.

    March 30, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  8. Burbank

    Christie cracks me up, saying he has been cleared of all wrong doing by an investigation he paid for himself. Sadly there will be lots of people out there dumb and gullible enough to fall for it. Let's just hope they are also too lazy to go vote.

    Aides don't just act on their own lke that. He probably told her to do it verbally so there would be no proof later, just a he said – she said. There are also photos of him hanging out with Port Authority people the day it happened. But then he paid for an investigation to clear himself, so that must be true. Politicians always tell the truth – right?

    March 30, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  9. sifto

    Obama has more rich donors than any republican..holier than thou libs are full of it...stop exaggerating to make money look sinful...

    March 30, 2014 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  10. sifto

    Libs need to get over it..christie bridge scandal never happened..he was exonerated by one of your own..a democrat..what dont you understand about.."absolutely no evidence"?

    March 30, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  11. epj717

    "I'm not in this business to have an academic conversation. I am not in this business to win the argument. I am in this business to win elections."

    That sounds more like something you'd hear at a pep rally. The reality is that this isn't a football game. It's for the presidency. This man might be your next leader. We don't need a man who makes decisions "...without care or concern for the consequence" or a man in it to win it. We need someone whose going to hear those conversations and have those arguments and work across the aisle to get things done. Christie seems incredibly reckless, like a bull in a china shop to use an old saying. In a world where the US brand is shot overseas and at home where people are losing confidence in their government, do you really want a guy like that running the show in 2016?

    March 30, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  12. courtenay craig

    Shouldn't prostitutes be better looking? After Citizens United, there is no need to hide the fact you're buying the candidate of your choice.

    March 30, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  13. kingliberal

    Now they aren't even trying to pretend that they aren't bought and paid for.

    March 30, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  14. Mike Green

    And democrats fight for George Soros support..... All parties court the rich for their campaign money.

    March 30, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  15. Martha in CF

    This meeting is a joke. Does all that count anymore is how much money can be poured into a candidate for any office. How unfair to a qualified candidate who does not have the money or the 'in' to run but has the brains to run for office. Money- the root of all evil for everything.

    March 30, 2014 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  16. rs

    Let the payoffs begin!
    Until a majority of citizens become more responsible by understanding who they are voting for...the thief with the most money will continue to win.

    March 30, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  17. Chris L.

    Let's call this what it is, legalized bribery. I'm waiting for the GOP and their wealthy masters to cut to the chase and call for outright plutocracy.

    March 30, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  18. Momo

    IT IS OK............AS LONG AS it is not obama, the white people can court billionaire for donation

    March 30, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  19. bb

    Pay attention, because If the dems nominate Hilary, and they almost certainly will, one of these guys will be your next President.

    March 30, 2014 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  20. polite centrist

    If you want to solve the deficit problem, you must Cut Spending AND Raise Taxes. If you want to shrink the National Debt, you must Cut Spending AND Raise Taxes A LOT.

    March 30, 2014 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  21. Mom

    Nothing like putting the presidency up to the highest bidder. This is why we can't get a decent candidate to even vote for (on either side of the aisle). The American people have no power to decide who the candidates will be, it's all decided by the people with the most money. This country is headed down a very dark path indeed. I hope I don't live long enough to see the ending.

    March 30, 2014 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  22. TiredofBush

    Once again we have GOP rich kids trying to buy an election

    March 30, 2014 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  23. J Anthony

    @greg: the national debt is about control, it cannot be paid down. The root cause is our usurious monetary_system, owned and conntrolled by private bankers, foreign and domestic. The Fed is not a government bank. One solution is taking back the power to create our own debt_free currency and credit. Private bankers have fought against the sovereign right of nations to create their own currency for centuries.

    March 30, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  24. matt

    This whole thing reads like Stormfront fan fiction

    March 30, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  25. Strategerist

    I've never seen a single instance of a liberal whining about Soros or the other liberal donors. But they can't wait to criticize any single attempt to the GOP to fight back in the same manner. Hypocritical much????

    March 30, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
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