The gathering of Republican presidential contenders on Saturday presented an opportunity for a collective critique of former President Donald Trump. However, it turned into a display of Trump’s continued dominance in the GOP race and his ability to swiftly overcome perceived missteps.
Speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual conference, Trump received the most sustained applause among all Republican presidential hopefuls. He made no mention of his recent controversial comments regarding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hezbollah, and the audience did not seem preoccupied with those remarks.
The event also highlighted Trump’s control over the party when his one-time vice president, Mike Pence, announced the suspension of his presidential campaign. Pence’s decision, driven by financial constraints and a slim chance of making the debate stage, underscored the idea that challenging Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results held no reward.
For Trump’s competitors, the event was a final opportunity to share a stage with the former president before the Iowa caucuses in January. While some rivals like Nikki Haley criticized Trump directly, there was little appetite in the room for attacks on the frontrunner. Even Chris Christie, who has been critical of Trump, was met with boos.
Trump remained above the fray, focusing on his record in defending Israel and critiquing President Joe Biden’s Middle East policies. He emphasized his administration’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and suggested he could have brought Iran into the Abraham Accords.
The event occurred at a crucial time in the GOP primary, with Trump maintaining a steady lead. His decision to avoid the debate stage deprived rivals of opportunities to challenge him directly.
The hope among non-Trump campaigns was that the field would narrow, allowing for a more focused challenge. Pence’s departure may be seen as a positive development in this regard, but it’s unclear which candidate will benefit from it. Some Republicans have called on others to rally behind Trump as the clear nominee.
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