The ad says, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”
But when it comes to former President Donald Trump and the GOP primary, what happened in Vegas on Saturday is also happening in New Hampshire and the rest of the early-voting states, too.
Trump rocked the house. And former Vice President Mike Pence’s campaign bought the farm.
Last weekend’s Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) candidate cattle call could have been a political jackpot for one of the non-Trump candidates in the game. First, it was one of the rare events featuring his fellow candidates that Trump has agreed to attend.
Second, the Hamas attack on Israel — the top news story of the day — has particular resonance with the RJC audience, an audience of affluent Republicans who, on paper, should be open to a pragmatic alternative to Trump.
And third, Trump has made some controversial comments in the wake of the Hamas invasion that would appear to put him on the wrong foot with the RJC audience.
But when Saturday’s event was over, Trump was up, and Pence was out.
“He drew rousing applause, cheers, and multiple standing ovations,” the AP reported.
The RJC welcome for the former president was by far more enthusiastic than any other candidate, even those like Pence and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who offered their unreserved support for the Jewish state.
Last week on Meet The Press, Pence said, “I think it’s important that American leaders in both parties speak with one voice … The world needs to know this: America stands with Israel. And we need to stand with Israel as they prepare to do what needs to be done, which is going to require a ground invasion. They’re going to have to hunt down and destroy Hamas once and for all.”
That was just days after Trump went out of his way to criticize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the aftermath of the Hamas attack. “He was not prepared. He was not prepared, and Israel was not prepared,” Trump said.
Later that same day, Trump gave the Iranian-backed terrorists of Hezbollah a shout-out. “You know, Hezbollah is very smart. They’re all very smart.”
And yet it was Trump who was greeted with cheers by the Jewish Republicans in Vegas, while Pence used his speech to announce he was exiting the race.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott also threw elbows at Trump, though without naming names. But it was Haley, Trump’s U.N. pitbull, who took the biggest bite.
“As president, I will not compliment Hezbollah,” Haley told the RJC audience. “Nor will I criticize Israel’s prime minister in the middle of tragedy and war. We have no time for personal vendettas. I will also not compliment Chinese Communist President Xi. Nor will I call North Korea’s Kim Jong Un my friend.
“These are not good or smart people,” Haley said.
The reaction? What’s Hebrew for “crickets?”
It was not that Haley wasn’t well-received or that the RJC members didn’t like her message. It was just that she was asking them to shuffle the deck while they were holding a Trump hand and happy to stick.
Las Vegas is a city of gamblers, of high rollers prepared to back longshots with long odds for big payouts. But with the New Hampshire primary just 12 weeks away and Trump consistently holding a 30-point lead, how many players are willing to bet against those odds?
When Granite State political veterans say, “It’s still early,” and “Anything can happen,” or “We haven’t even heard from the voters yet,” they are right, of course. And with Trump campaigning in America’s finest courtrooms instead of stumping at county fairs and town halls, there are far more wild cards in the GOP deck this year than usual.
But for someone other than Trump to be the nominee, something strange has to happen. Someone has to beat the odds and show a streak of good luck that changes the betting from big donors and GOP activists in the primary game.
What happened in Vegas on Saturday was the opposite. For months, campaign watchers have been saying Pence had no path forward. The smart money was betting that MAGA voters would never forgive him for Jan. 6, and the rest of the GOP would never trust him after everything else.
The conventional wisdom was right. The house odds won. What happened in Vegas was what usually happens.
And Trump’s lucky streak continues.