LAS VEGAS – Two of the nation’s highest-profile Republican governors on Saturday called for more aggressive leadership on America’s challenges abroad, emphasizing their support for Israel as they courted powerful Jewish donors.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also stoked speculation about their own presidential ambitions as they gave frustrated Republicans advice on how to reclaim the White House in 2016 after losing two straight elections.
The Republican speakers at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual spring gathering largely avoided criticizing President Barack Obama by name in remarks that were thick with rhetoric faulting Obama’s foreign policy while offering few specifics.
We cannot have a world where our friends are unsure of whether we will be with them and our enemies are unsure of whether we will be against them, Christie said. In New Jersey, nobody has to wonder whether I’m for them or against them.
Walker declared that the nation needs a swift and decisive foreign policy, while insisting that the GOP must find a presidential nominee from outside Washington.
The Republican governors, both considering presidential bids, appeared at the Venetian resort casino, which is owned by Republican super donor Sheldon Adelson. Their remarks came inside an ornate ballroom two floors from where gamblers played blackjack and roulette.
Two years before the 2016 presidential contest officially begins, the lesser-known competition for the GOP’s most influential donors is well underway. No donor is more sought after than Adelson, who is among the 10 richest people in the world. He did not attend Walker’s speech, but he was seated directly in front of the podium as Christie spoke.
Earlier in the week, Adelson met privately with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who addressed the Republican Jewish Coalition’s senior members at Adelson’s company airport hangar. Ohio Gov. John Kasich was the featured speaker during a Saturday luncheon that Adelson attended, along with scores of Jewish donors.
America must be engaged in the world and we should help the people who share our values, Kasich said in a speech that repeatedly referred to Adelson by name.
The casino magnate almost single-handedly bankrolled the group behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign. Now, he’s casting for a new presidential candidate on whom to shower his millions in campaign cash.
Adelson is known for his devotion to Israel, in addition to an aggressive American foreign policy.
Walker conceded that he does not have extensive foreign policy experience, having been focused on state issues as the Wisconsin governor. But he called for a more consistent foreign policy, reflecting upon lessons he learned from raising his family.
We make sure with both parents and grandparents that we were unified, Walker said. We didn’t waver. We didn’t allow our sons to push the line.
The comments come as Obama grapples with the Ukraine crisis.
Walker, who is not Jewish, noted that his son’s name, Matthew, is from the Hebrew word for Gift from God. He later added that he decorates his residence with Christmas lights and a menorah candle.
Christie, a Catholic, said he was overwhelmed by displays of religious tolerance during a recent trip to Jerusalem.