LAS VEGAS (TheBlaze/AP) — Ted Cruz will have hundreds of influential Republican donors and Jewish leaders all to himself this weekend in Las Vegas as he addresses the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Cruz's rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, Donald Trump and John Kasich, will not be attending the event. The move by the Trump campaign is puzzling, considering that the New York mogul has been trying to project himself as a party unifier who deserves the Republican nomination even if he falls short of winning enough delegates in the primaries to clinch it outright.
RJC spokesman Matt McNulty confirmed to TheBlaze Friday that neither Kasich nor Trump would be attending the event, but declined to offer an explanation why, referring TheBlaze to the candidates' campaigns.
A Trump spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment from TheBlaze Friday inquiring why Trump declined to attend the event, despite having only one event scheduled throughout the weekend.
A spokesman for the Kasich campaign told TheBlaze that the Ohio governor has plans to continue campaigning in New York through the weekend, which is the reason he won't be in attendance at the event.
Abbie Friedman, an RJC board member who introduced Trump when he spoke to the Republican group in December, declared it a "missed opportunity" for Trump. "With Cruz coming in, he'll have the entire platform to himself to win support from an incredibly powerful and important group," she said.
The RJC is funded by the top political donor of 2012, Sheldon Adelson, and meets at the billionaire's Venetian casino resort on the Strip.
Trump also declined an invitation to attend a private dinner at Adelson's home Thursday night with the RJC's board, according to people with direct knowledge of the invitation who weren't authorized to share the details about the event. Trump decided not to attend the dinner even before he canceled a West Coast trip that he'd planned for Thursday and Friday.
The Republican front-runner does not appear to be sending surrogates to Las Vegas, either, as onetime presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did last year.
"That, to me, is a real revelation into the weakness of his campaign," said Ari Fleischer, another RJC board member who has said he would back any GOP nominee in the general election. "There should be someone here on the ground. That's what good campaigns do."
In addition to speaking Saturday to more than 500 attendees, Cruz has a separate, smaller event planned with RJC members. His chief Jewish liaison, Nick Muzin, will be there throughout the conference. And pro-Cruz outside groups that can take unlimited contributions are setting up shop in the Venetian this weekend, ready to land donations.
[sharequote align="center"]"That is a real revelation into the weakness of [Trump's] campaign."[/sharequote]
"There's a lot of interest in hearing from Ted Cruz in light of his win in Wisconsin and the impact that has on re-shaping the race," said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. "It's all coming together at a crucial juncture."
Brooks said that some of the members of the organization no longer see Trump as the overwhelming front-runner and predict a contested convention this summer.
Among the recent converts to Cruz are Fred and Jay Zeidman of Houston. Both signed on last week as fundraisers for the Texas senator, following their work for Jeb Bush, who ended his campaign in February.
Fred Zeidman, an RJC board member, said he doesn't agree with Cruz's position about deporting the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally. "But with the safety and security of Israel being our priority, no one in this whole campaign is more outspoken on this issue than Ted Cruz," he said. "And we'd be remiss if we didn't show him our support."
Jay Zeidman said that the Trump campaign's decision to skip RJC ignores the group's influence among Republican Jewish voters. "At this point in the campaign, you want to be making as many friends as possible, I would think," he said.
The group's gatherings have become can't-miss events for GOP candidates in recent years. Part of the reason: Adelson, a key member, was the top political spender in the last presidential race, pouring $90 million of family money into that campaign.
Yet the gambling mogul hasn't been willing to place a bet in this year's unpredictable Republican presidential contest, sending mixed signals about his candidate preference. His newly acquired Las Vegas newspaper backed Marco Rubio, who has since dropped out, his wife has been a Cruz fan, and he himself recently said of a Trump nomination, "Why not?"
In November, Adelson wrote a pair of $2,700 checks to Cruz and Bush — a steep drop-off from the previous race.
Aside from the Thursday dinner at his house, Adelson wasn't expected to be at any of the RJC conference events. Likewise, he did not attend the RJC's December presidential forum in Washington. All the GOP candidates at the time, including Trump, spoke there.