GOP 2016 hopefuls address big donors in Vegas
March 29th, 2014
08:19 PM ET
9 years 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.

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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)

    Can't wait to see Sheldon Adelson,Grover Norquist and the GOBP stuff Jeb Bush down the tea potty's throats 2012 Mitt Romney style.

    March 30, 2014 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
  2. Evangelos

    Ahh, nothing like a good pander-fest. Nothing quite reveals and reinforces the real, inherent structure of our polity like a group of contribution-hungry politicians prostrating themselves at the feet of right-wing billionaires.

    And if the presiding plutocrat made his $Billions in the mobster-permeated casino industry, hey, what a clear sign of sound moral judgement, strong family values, and altruistic political philosophy.

    Still, Governor Christie - "Occupied territories"?! Oops! Truth-gaffe! Must humbly beg a thousand apologies for that one. Now matter how much careful pre-processing of the speech, a few parts-per-billion of Reality somehow remained. Unforgivable in neo-con circles.

    March 30, 2014 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
  3. Name Uche Agonsi

    Words of advice for this bunch of GOPers. They need a check list for character attributes on people they think deserve to feature as the POTUS or one day, they commit the mistake of installing a mad man as the POTUS . Not uplifts from the madding crowd or the wild wild west.....people that take decisions before getting the proper information or even care for the effects. For the US economy, is not just creating a surplus on the balance sheet , or even tackling unemployment today, but creating a better future for US, growth, environment, peace. The myopic state of the GOPers goals for the economy should not be allowed to override the long term goals.

    March 30, 2014 06:31 am at 6:31 am |
  4. teapooper

    "Adelson, who has spent tens of millions of dollars supporting conservative candidates, met privately with all the presidential contenders.." this should be illegal across the board for both parties. I bet the convo. went something like this.." Keep'em poor , blah, blah, healthcare for everyone costs too much, blah blah'll take orders directly from me, blah blah blah.."

    March 30, 2014 06:37 am at 6:37 am |
  5. KEVIN

    Free and fair elections and democracy – how to buy political power. We need to get big money out of politics because a private citizen with a lot of money can by political power.

    March 30, 2014 06:38 am at 6:38 am |
  6. Marie MD

    Nice picture of the biggest boy in the clown cars stealing money for a nomination or position none will never have.

    March 30, 2014 07:04 am at 7:04 am |
  7. MollyBee

    And..such is the crux of the modern Republican Party. Big money.

    March 30, 2014 07:08 am at 7:08 am |
  8. Gurgyl

    GOP is wasting time and money this time too. Very pathetic guys. Republican Party has been tarnished by Bush, Reagan bruises badly. It is extinct now for another fifty years or so.

    March 30, 2014 07:12 am at 7:12 am |
  9. Corey Delo

    Welcome to modern day America. The land where the super wealthy simple buy government

    March 30, 2014 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
  10. bluebyyou666

    What's that Billionaire Jewish Republican's stance on Gay Marriage, huh?

    -why did you accept that money Mr. Christi! (at the presidential debates in 2016!)

    March 30, 2014 07:17 am at 7:17 am |
  11. sameeker

    Therein lies the problem with the American system. Those with huge amounts of money get personal access to the politicians, while everybody else is simply discounted. Money is NOT free speech.

    March 30, 2014 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
  12. Roy

    Billionaire money = corruption from day 1 ..Indivual votes are meaningless doesn't matter what quack gets in the White House.

    March 30, 2014 08:01 am at 8:01 am |
  13. Hap

    Christie just wants to win elections so he can govern, not to do what's smart, or right, just to win, to wield power. This is the message of the day because this crowd is all about power, tomorrow it will be tailored to the next crowd. That's the problem with them, they think by changing their tune but not changing their real platform they'll fool us.

    March 30, 2014 08:02 am at 8:02 am |
  14. ditdahdit

    Adelson ain't the Pope, but you can still kiss his ring.

    March 30, 2014 08:03 am at 8:03 am |
  15. Craig

    Our political system has turned into a big's disgusting !

    March 30, 2014 08:05 am at 8:05 am |
  16. OrmondGeorge

    Until the Working Class – you know, the people who ACTUALLY elect these "candidates" – become "Bid Donors," we will be at the mercy of Big Money.

    We need to find a way to get money out of the election process.

    March 30, 2014 08:09 am at 8:09 am |
  17. Gurgyl

    Why not we link driver's license to citizenship and immigration/green card. GOP is plotting to restrict voters from voting. Poor are so vulnerable here in this case. Wake up, democrats and hit this back. NC, Kansas, Arizona are the worst.

    March 30, 2014 08:10 am at 8:10 am |
  18. Peter K

    With over 300 million people in the US, just remember how these politicians are falling all over themselves to kiss up to an old Casino mogul who looks like Jackie Mason.

    March 30, 2014 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  19. Dan Donovan

    Once again the Republican Party soils itself, they are not just an embarrassment to the US, they are an international joke.

    March 30, 2014 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  20. Jim

    "BUY ME! No, no, no BUY ME! No me, me me BUY ME! BUY ME, BUY ME, for god's sake BUY ME!" Conversation recorded in Vegas among GOP hopefuls...

    March 30, 2014 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  21. kevin flannigan

    Sure glad the Socialist Democrats, don't do that.

    March 30, 2014 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  22. bearitstrong

    Kissing the kingmakers's rings is a tradition hollowed by all political parties at all levels.

    March 30, 2014 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  23. JohnK

    If you want to win elections, try adapting some policies that aren't based on ignorance, greed, and bigotry.

    March 30, 2014 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  24. Dan

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich...say hello to President Hillary Clinton

    March 30, 2014 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  25. Greg

    I'll always vote Democratic over Republican any day, always have! BUT.......Why is neither party EVER addressing the answer to this out of control debt we have?
    Republicans may have screamed about it because they know it sounds absolutely logical and will earn them points for appearing to be the most in touch with fiscal reality. However, no matter what they claim in their campaigning, it's their actions once in office that has always concerned me. Now if they really did do something about the deficit spending and debt once in office then their claims would have absolute merit. But that hasn't happened among the Republicans NOR the Democrats since 1931.
    Can anyone point out any time since 1931 where the deficit spending hasn't overrun revenues, leaving us with a conclusive increased debt each and every year? In this respect it sure doesn't matter how much or less one party or administration spent vs. the other, right?
    We all get sucked in listening to them fighting about who reduced the deficit more while neither one of them does anything to address the increasing debt.
    Now hard line, far Right politicians (radicals and extremists such as the Tea Party) stand up and use this subject to bolster themselves but in true reality will NEVER, EVER implement the nuts and bolts of actually doing it. We're supposed to believe we have politicians present today that will actually be able to address something that NO politician has addressed sine 1931??????? That an 83 year history now!
    I think we're all much better served to begin to examine the intricate reasoning behind why politicians have done what they've done over that 83 years.
    In doing so I think what is blatantly obvious is that ALL politicians have been doing the exact same thing which is totally against the reasoning that you don't spend what you don't have.
    So again, Why? EXACTLY why?????? Do we as the public ever really go that far? Do we think it's all too complex for us to understand thus trust our chosen party to do that thinking?
    Have we the people actually broken all ties with true logical thinking for ourselves? What about that 83 history of spending what we don't have? Without talking about anything else we need to first logically address that question.
    What's interesting is that once we start to logically assess that individual question, one fact come up right away. We begin to look at the history of our debt and the first thing we'll notice is that there was actually ONE time, and ONE time ONLY where we really DID reduce the deficit spending and associated debt.
    It is the only example we have over the last 100 years of such responsibility. It should be the poster child example we need, want and scream about.
    But how about this next question? This period of responsibility, being the most responsible fiscal decade America has ever known was from 1919 through 1931.
    So the real question is this? Why after the most responsible decade we've known were we not in a position with the right tools to avert a depression? What should the benefits of that responsibility have been? How could it have not paid off and actually been the sole reason for us coming out of that depression?
    So the next question is "what exactly did guide us out of that depression?". Now I'm sure there will be an onslaught answers to that from many different sources. But what I'd like to focus on, what logic itself in my own mind tells me to focus on is the fact that no matter what actions were taken and no matter what the supposed reasons were, it includes RETURNING to fiscal irresponsibility. Yep, we started borrowing more than we brought in again. It hasn't changed since! And we're blaming Obama? Like if our President and administration were Republican it would all change??????? Well. I do know this. If that is the way we all think we're not even close to logically getting our act together because we refuse to even implement logic into our thinking as voters.
    SO factually, in using our true logic...WHO IS GOING TO ACKNOWLEDGE AND ADDRESS THIS??????
    Is it something so dreadful that politicians can't possibly go there? Is it they can't tell the people the truth that if we stop all the spending of money we don't have that America unravels completely? No more home loans, no more car loans, no more credit cards and of COURSE, No more credit extended to Wall Street to gamble with the futures of the general public?

    March 30, 2014 08:35 am at 8:35 am |
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