Vice President Mike Pence’s speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition will be the visual evidence of the fruits of years of the politically active group’s labors. The annual conference at billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson’s casino resort on the Las Vegas Strip has become a de facto campaign stop for Republican presidential candidates over the past few years.
In 2014, four people who would jump into the GOP primary attended the RJC conference. One of them, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, seemed to tailor his remarks to an audience of one: He repeatedly made eye contact with the billionaire and concluded by thanking “Sheldon” for inviting him.
The RJC also drew the entire GOP presidential field to its December 2015 forum in Washington.
Now, with the first Republican White House in eight years, the group of Republican donors and Jewish leaders will be among the first to hear from the new vice president, who addresses them Friday night. Also on the speaking schedule for the weekend are former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney; and Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina.
Pence traveled to Germany last weekend for his first trip abroad as vice president and paid a visit to the former Dachau concentration camp, where thousands of Austrian and German Jews were among those imprisoned and killed. He was joined on the tour by a survivor of the Holocaust who was at Dachau when it was liberated by American soldiers at the end of World War II.
On Wednesday, following a speech in the St. Louis suburbs, Pence made a surprise visit to a Jewish cemetery where more than 150 gravestones had been toppled and vandalized. Pence, speaking through a bullhorn, said at the cemetery that there was “no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism” and then picked up a rake and helped clean up the cemetery.
Thursday night The Las Vegas shindig opened with a private dinner that featured an on-stage conversation between two casino billionaires, Adelson and Steve Wynn, whom President Donald Trump recently selected to be the Republican Party’s chief fundraiser. On Friday, RJC elected former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman as its new chairman. In a statement, Coleman predicted the group would play “a more significant role than ever before” in elections.
Like many staples of party politics — including the conservative activist conference taking place this week near Washington — the RJC has fit uneasily with Trump.
Adelson, who helps finance the RJC, didn’t openly support Trump until the final weeks of the presidential campaign. The feeling was mutual. Trump had called his GOP rivals “puppets” of Adelson and prompted major heartburn among Republican Jews with his freewheeling comments at the 2015 RJC forum.
Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave more than $20 million to a pro-Trump super PAC, making them among his most generous benefactors, campaign records show.
Trump has been appreciative. At one of his final campaign stops, in Las Vegas, he called the couple “really incredible people” who have been “so supportive” The Adelsons also were front and center for Trump’s swearing-in last month, and Sheldon Adelson was one of Trump’s first dinner guests at the White House.
And Trump picked the leader of the super PAC that landed Adelson’s money, Chicago businessman Todd Ricketts, as deputy commerce secretary.