LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Under the bright lights on Las Vegas Boulevard—“The Strip”—2016 Republican juggernauts Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and real estate mogul Donald Trump will face off on Saturday at the Planet Hollywood Casino, Hotel and conference center.
The made-for-show-business showdown between the rising star of the Washington, D.C. GOP establishment and the controversial populist insurgent marks what might be the biggest ideological rivalry inside the Republican Party in the 2016 cycle. Trump, a bombastic flamethrower, has hammered Rubio-style Republicans for their support for amnesty for illegal aliens, which would hurt unemployed and struggling Americans. Rubio and his allies in the establishment of the party, on the other hand, have argued that Trump’s harsh rhetoric is not good for the Republican Party.
About 2,000 grassroots activists—many of whom have never before been involved in politics—are here at the conference for this clash of ideas. In addition to Trump and Rubio, more conservative and libertarian leaders like filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, former Rep. Allen West (R-FL), Tea Party Patriots national coordinator Jenny Beth Martin, Heritage Foundation economist Stephen Moore, and many more are descending on Vegas to frame the 2016 discussion ahead of what’s sure to be a brutal battle for this key early state in the 2016 GOP nominating process.
“I think a lot of people are realizing that it isn’t just conservatism that hangs in the balance, or the Reagan legacy or the Reagan era, it’s really the American dream itself—after eight years of Obama,” D’Souza, also a bestselling author, told Breitbart News in an interview.
If we’re looking toward eight years of Hillary, that’s enough time to remake America. When Obama said he was going to do it, most people didn’t think he was going to, didn’t take him seriously or didn’t know what he meant. I think we now do know what he means and we do know the direction things are going and so we now all have to do a little more because what America has meant is itself at stake.
West told Breitbart News that he believes the high grassroots energy levels here are a sign that “principles are starting to matter over politics.”
“People want the right type of solutions,” West, also now the President and CEO at the National Center for Policy Analysis, said. “They want the solutions that are based upon the founding documents of this Constitutional Republic. Conservatism has always been what’s best for this great nation. We just celebrated 239 years of independence and a lot of people want to make sure we have another 239. So I’m just thrilled to be here. What a great scene, what a great atmosphere already.”
Rubio and Trump represent two fundamentally different sides of the Republican Party. Rubio, like his mentor former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush—who he’s vying against to be the GOP establishment pick in the 2016 primaries—tends to bend at the will of the donor class. While his campaign has thus far not released last quarter’s fundraising totals, it’s widely expected Rubio’s numbers will heavily rely not on grassroots money but on cash he’s obtained from various high-dollar donors including billionaire auto salesman Norman Braman.
“As Mr. Rubio has ascended in the ranks of Republican politics, Mr. Braman has emerged as a remarkable and unique patron,” the New York Times’ Michael Barbaro and Steve Eder wrote back in May. “He has bankrolled Mr. Rubio’s campaigns. He has financed Mr. Rubio’s legislative agenda. And, at the same time, he has subsidized Mr. Rubio’s personal finances, as the rising politician and his wife grappled with heavy debt and big swings in their income.”
On the airwaves here on both television and radio, Rubio’s allies are plastering Nevadans with advertisements perhaps financed by Braman and others like Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who Politico reported is backing Rubio.
Writing that Rubio “now has another billionaire in his corner” back in May, Politico noted that Ellison—who’s worth about $54 billion—was holding a fundraiser for Rubio.
On Fox News, an advertisement from a pro-Rubio nonprofit group Conservative Solutions Project highlighting Rubio’s opposition to Obama’s nuclear arms deal with Iran runs nonstop in Nevada right now.
“It’s on all the time,” one local activist said.
“A nonprofit created by allies of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is preparing to launch a more than $1 million+ advertising campaign highlighting the presidential candidate’s resistance to an emerging Iranian nuclear deal, marking its first commercials since Rubio launched his campaign in April,” the Washington Post reported in late June. “The ad campaign, which will include cable TV, radio and online components, will run at a time when the Senate is preparing to focus on Iran as the deadline for securing a deal approaches.”
That Super PAC which is blanketing Nevada airwaves raked in $16 million last quarter, Politico reported–and billionaires Braman and Ellison aren’t even done giving to it yet.
Rubio’s dealing with donors isn’t a one-way street—he and Bush are their favorite candidates for a reason. Both would be willing to do the donor class’ bidding if elected to office. There’s perhaps no issue that better illustrates their dependence on donors—and that vicious circle of donors giving money then politicians acting on the donors’ behalf—than immigration. Both Rubio and Bush support full blown amnesty for illegal aliens.
As Rubio vies for support from another billionaire, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, he’s signed on to cosponsor a major piece of legislation that would substantially benefit Adelson’s bottom line.
“The Florida senator, who has relentlessly sought the billionaire casino mogul’s backing for 2016, co-sponsored a bill yesterday afternoon to ban online gaming,” the Washington Post reported on June 25. “It is not only Adelson’s top legislative priority, it could significantly boost his company’s bottom line.”
Rubio’s team has insisted that he’s signed onto the Adelson-backed bill because he has a moral opposition to gambling all around—even though he’s not opposed to allowing gaming to continue in Las Vegas, where it benefits the billionaire whose support he desires.
“Marco has opposed expanding gambling in FL, but never criticized the industry in Las Vegas,” Rubio spokesman Alex Conant tweeted at Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston.
Conant was actually not telling the truth, something he’s done many times on immigration but now is doing with regard to gambling.
“Nevada is the gambling mecca of the United States and it has a higher unemployment rate [and] their housing market is upside down,” Rubio himself said back in 2011, as reported by the Post. “They are hurting in Nevada.”
That’s a clear criticism of gambling in Nevada, and the hypocrisy prompted Ralston to slam Rubio as “needle-threading”—not take a clear position and attempt to appease everyone, something he’s done frequently on most issues—writing that Rubio and his team have displayed “sensitivity” on this.
“I am sure his positions have not gone unnoticed by the Strip, although Adelson, my sources tell me, thinks the Florida senator has potential,” Ralston wrote.
Trump, on the other hand, has seen the entire permanent political class—including Rubio and Bush—hammering him for daring to speak out against amnesty and about the surging illegal alien crime wave.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said in his presidential campaign announcement speech. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems… they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
West, the former Florida congressman and conservative icon, told Breitbart News that Trump is telling the truth.
“I think that’s why you see so many people here at Freedom Fest, for national sovereignty,” West said in his interview.
The Founding Fathers in the Constitution, Article I Section 8—repel invasion—so when people are coming across your border uninvited, they are here illegally. The fact that we have states—11 states, and over 200 cities—that say we’re going to allow these people to be here and provide them sanctuary, and we’re not going to cooperate with the federal government, they’re spitting in the eye of the rule of law. It’s no different than providing a sanctuary to Islamic terrorists if you ask me and this is having gross ramifications for the American people.
West noted that the Obama administration has released from federal penitentiaries 3,700 “criminal illegal aliens” with a “threat level one.”
I think we’re looking for people who are going to solve this crisis with our border and not a single city that has declared itself to be a sanctuary state or city should be getting federal funding,” West said, before adding: “Obviously, he [Trump] is right because it just played out in San Francisco and many other cities. He didn’t say it as articulately as the political class likes to have it but there is a problem—one side wants to have a new voter base. And you have another side that wants to have cheap labor. In the middle, caught between this, is the hardworking everyday American citizen. I think Donald Trump somehow has channeled their anger and their angst about this issue and get this: He is number two in the polls. You can say whatever you want but somehow he has tapped into a very mainstream American sentiment.
That’s why Moore, the Heritage economist and former Wall Street Journal editorial page editor—who’s here to debate liberal economist Paul Krugman—thinks Trump is rocketing up in the polls.
“I think there is a backlash against the corruption, the cronyism, and the incompetence of government in Washington—at least in the United States,” Moore said in an interview here Wednesday evening.
The reason you’re seeing for example Donald Trump gain momentum—and I disagree with at least half of the things Donald Trump says—but he has tapped into something. Washington doesn’t work. This idea of bringing in a businessman who can fix things is very appropriate and very attractive to people. Republicans have to run against the corruption of Washington and say none of the things Washington does works. They can’t deliver the mail, they can’t run a balanced budget, they can’t run a pension program, they can’t make trains on time. School systems are a disaster. Government isn’t working and it’s creating a disaster—and we need to think of a new way to do this: That has to be the Republican message. Reform, reform, reform. Grow the economy through the policies we know worked under Reagan: Cut taxes, de-regulate, get the government off the back of business.
Moore is more in line with someone like a Rubio, one of the two Republicans—alongside Bush—that Trump is targeting.
“I like Sen. Rubio,” Moore said. “I think there’s very few Republicans who are as articulate on the conservative message as Marco Rubio. I think he’s a superstar. And he’s got a good chance of winning the nomination, quite frankly. He’s young, he’s dynamic and he speaks for the young generation. Republicans have to win those voters, we have to win back those voters that Barack Obama won. I think there’s a lot to be said for a Marco Rubio presidency.”
The facts, Tea Party Patriots’ Martin said in an interview with this reporter who was guest-hosting Mike Church’s radio show on Sirius XM Patriot on Monday morning, are on Trump’s side.
“I think that it’s easy to attack the messenger, and it’s easy to jump on board with the mainstream media’s attacks, and I think that it’s more difficult sometimes to go look at the issues in the underlying message,” Martin said.
You and I have both been down on the border in Texas. Tea Party Patriots did a documentary last years about the border. And the things that I saw when I was down on the border traveling are very concerning to me. It gave me a much different perspective and appreciation of why we must have and must secure our border and enforce the laws that already on our books. I think that’s something that we see that Americans agree with us on. They want the border secured, the want the laws already on the books to be enacted and they also know there already is a legal path to citizenship for those who want to be in this country and it’s neither fair nor right for people who are breaking the law that they’re cutting the line ahead of the folks who have done so in the legal way.
That brings up yet another point that puts Rubio squarely on an island of his own in the Republican primary: He’s the only legitimate candidate for the presidency on the Republican side of the aisle who supports not just legalization of illegal aliens but full citizenship to be conferred on illegal aliens after they get that full blown amnesty. While Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also supports citizenship, he’s not taken seriously as a 2016 GOP contender—and his lackluster performance in presidential polling means he’s unlikely to make the debate stage. On the other hand, even Bush—Rubio’s mentor—has abandoned his previous support for citizenship for illegal aliens.
“It’s easy to attack Donald Trump if you’re part of the problem,” Dave Bossie, the president of Citizens United, a high-power grassroots conservative group, said in an appearance after Martin on Monday morning on the Mike Church show.
But their problem is Donald Trump’s polling numbers keep going up is because he’s speaking truth to power. Even though he is a very wealthy guy and very successful in his own right—he is a neophyte in politics. He is not one who uses the right words that have been poll-tested. He speaks straight to the American people and he tells it like it is. He says things that everybody is thinking and that’s what has really got people nervous. I think Donald Trump has a huge upside here. Can he continue to make mistakes? Can he continue to do things during the campaign trail if he’s not disciplined? Absolutely. But Donald Trump is exceptionally talented and Donald Trump is somebody I would not just underestimate because you do it at your own peril.
A large part of the reason why Trump is able to speak out against these issues is because—as he also noted in his announcement speech—he is able to self-finance.
“I don’t need anybody’s money,” Trump said then. “It’s nice. I don’t need anybody’s money. I’m using my own money. I’m not using the lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich, I’ll show you that in a second. And by the way, I’m not even saying that in a braggadocios … that’s the kind that’s the kind of thinking you need for this country.”
Trump and Rubio have already gone a few rounds in the early going. Rubio has hit Trump for his “not just offensive and inaccurate, but also divisive” immigration comments in his announcement speech.
“Our next president needs to be someone who brings Americans together – not someone who continues to divide,” Rubio said in a statement last Friday. “Our broken immigration system is something that needs to be solved, and comments like this move us further from – not closer to – a solution. We need leaders who offer serious solutions to secure our border and fix our broken immigration system.”
In response, Trump’s team told Breitbart News that not only does Rubio have “zero credibility on securing our border” but that “nothing has been more ‘divisive’ than the outright lies” Rubio told America to “sell his amnesty for illegal immigrants.”
“Hard working Americans cannot depend on Senator Rubio to protect their jobs,” a Trump adviser late last week. “Senator Rubio’s ‘Gang of Eight’ bill, which was such an epic failure it never even came up for a vote in the House, would have given President Obama the immediate power to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.”
Trump himself has hammered the Florida senator too.
“Rubio is weak on immigration and he’s weak on jobs,” Trump said in a recent interview with Breitbart News. “We need someone who is going to make the country great again, and Rubio is not going to make the country great again—and neither is Bush.”
On the day he announced he’s running, in an interview in his Trump Tower office, Trump also told Breitbart News of Rubio: “I would say Marco Rubio is just not the guy.”
That’s what one of Mitt Romney’s most ardent supporters on the ground in New Hampshire last cycle, Carolyn Carruth—a conservative activist who’s here in Las Vegas this weekend—told Breitbart News in an interview. She supported Romney in 2008 and 2012, but is now backing Trump in 2016.
“I know how politically correct, too often, our campaigns have become,” Carruth said in between panels at Freedom Fest.
And it’s a shame because political correctness is killing us. Donald Trump, Scott Walker and Chris Christie all spoke against those things that were hitting them hard. Because they had the courage to say it like it is, as Christie would say, to do it—as Walker did—and Donald Trump, he’ll tell you when you’re fired and he can recognize incompetence. Rubio, his points on immigration—I can’t support Rubio. Ted Cruz is my choice as far as that goes. But we [conservatives] have got a fine slate of six candidates or so that will be in the top 10. I am certainly surprised because I heard Trump in New Hampshire back in April and nobody believed he would enter. He has and I am so please that he will bring the energy and truth. When he speaks, we understand. When the politicians speak, they don’t get the audience because they are only being taught political correctness. He’s a speaker for the people and to the people in a language that they understand. I’m grateful for him being in.
Rubio will speak here on Friday night around 7:30 p.m., and Trump will speak on Saturday. Trump wasn’t even going to come here until after Rubio attacked him last Friday. On Saturday, the day after Rubio attacked Trump–and as Bush and Romney piled on–Trump and Freedom Fest announced that Trump sought out the stage that at one time was going to belong solely to Rubio.
“Donald Trump, the most controversial candidate for President, has asked to address us on Saturday, July 11, in the Celebrity Ballroom, directly after Senator Mike Lee, and we agreed to make room for him,” Freedom Fest organizers wrote in an email to attendees.
As the Freedom Fest organizers wrote in that July 4 email: “Let the real fireworks begin!”