His presidential rivals thousands of miles away, Ted Cruz warned Jewish donors on Saturday that Donald Trump could trigger a general election "bloodbath" for the Republican Party.
"If Donald Trump is the nominee, it is an absolute disaster for Republicans, for conservatives and for the country," the Texas senator declared, charging that Trump would jeopardize control of the House and the Senate and tilt the balance of power at the Supreme Court away from conservatives.
Cruz earned a warm reception, yet his appearance came amid an overall sense of dissatisfaction from many Jewish Republicans, gathered for their annual spring meeting at an upscale hotel along the Las Vegas strip. Many prefer Cruz over Trump, but few were excited about either candidate.
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"It's not a natural constituency for Ted Cruz, but over time, he's won the war of attrition for some of these folks," said Kellyanne Conway, a Republican operative leading a pro-Cruz super PAC. "He's seen as the alternative to Donald Trump for many of these people."
Indeed, there were some vocal Trump supporters among the roughly 500 who attended the weekend gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition, but they were in the minority.
Trump irked Jewish leaders earlier in the year by promising to remain neutral on prospective peace negotiations with the Israelis and Palestinians. And while his speech to a pro-Israel group in Washington last month was well-received, Trump's nativist rhetoric alienates some Jewish leaders who "are scared by the concept of Donald Trump and the presidency," said Republican Jewish attorney Charlie Spies.
"No American politician should be compared to Hitler because of the unique, horrific nature of the Nazi genocide," said Spies, a former Jeb Bush supporter. "Having said that, there is an issue of tone and being able to whip up crowds, often directed at segments of society that get scapegoated. Anybody who has studied history would be concerned watching that."
Trump is the least popular Republican presidential candidate among America's registered Jewish voters, according to a poll commissioned by the Republican Jewish Coalition and shared privately with board members over the weekend. The poll found that Ohio Gov. John Kasich was the overwhelming favorite Republican, while Cruz fell in the middle.
Jewish voters represent roughly 3 percent of the American electorate, but have larger populations in swing states like Florida and Ohio.
Both Trump and Kasich declined invitations to attend the annual event, considered a can't-miss for GOP candidates in recent years. Part of the reason: billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a key member who hosts the event at his Venetian hotel resort, was the top political spender in the last presidential race, pouring $90 million of family money into that campaign.
Trump and Kasich spent the day instead in New York ahead of the state's April 19 primary election. There was little sign of Trump or Kasich representatives, but Cruz sent most of his senior team to the Las Vegas hotel. The list included campaign manager Jeff Roe, pollster Chris Wilson and its chief Jewish liaison, Nick Muzin. Pro-Cruz outside groups that can take unlimited contributions hosted simultaneous events in the same hotel to land donations.
At least two former presidential candidates — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry — were on hand as well, in addition to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson.
Adelson hasn't been willing to place a bet in this year's unpredictable Republican presidential contest, sending mixed signals about his candidate preference. Yet Cruz's status as the only candidate to make the trip to Las Vegas on Saturday was noticed.
"All three candidates were invited to attend our group today, but Sen. Cruz was the only one to accept our invitation," said RJC board member Michael Epstein as the crowd applauded.