Eight Republican presidential candidates, including the dominant front-runner, former president Donald J. Trump, are set to address a gathering of Jewish Republicans in Las Vegas on Saturday, in what amounts to a test of foreign policy bona fides — and a bid for donor support — amid a rapidly escalating conflict in the Middle East.
The annual gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition has become perhaps the highest-profile gathering of the Republican primary season, taking on greater urgency after Hamas’s attack on Israel three weeks ago.
It is also a galvanizing moment for Republican officials: In a last-minute pivot, the event’s schedule changed to accommodate the first national appearance by the newly elected House speaker, Mike Johnson, who will address the group on Saturday night.
Support for Israel unifies a broad coalition of Republican voters and officials, including foreign policy hawks, business leaders and evangelical Christians.
The war has become a dominant issue on the presidential campaign trail, and discussion of it has been omnipresent at the coalition event, which began on Friday at the sprawling convention center at the Venetian in Las Vegas.
Over a Shabbat dinner on Friday night, several Republican officials pledged their support for Israel and the Jewish people before an audience of 1,500 donors, activists and officials.
“Here in Nevada, we stand unequivocally and unapologetically with Israel and the Jewish community,” Gov. Joe Lombardo of Nevada said.
Amid the expression of concern and solidarity for one of America’s closest allies, in speeches on Friday — and in the prepared remarks of several candidates on Saturday — Republican politicians saw political opportunities in the divisions that the conflict has opened up at home.
Several of the speakers Friday night disparaged progressive Democratic lawmakers who have called for a cease-fire, including Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, whose names drew loud boos from the audience. Others spoke about the tensions on college campuses, where students have clashed over the war.
Representative David Kustoff, a Republican from Tennessee, said that after the attacks, a number of American Jews went “to bed as progressives and woke up the next morning as conservatives.”
The speeches offered a preview of the kind of attacks Republicans might lob at President Biden next year, questioning whether his administration was prepared for the conflict in the Middle East and highlighting divides between his party’s progressive wing and the administration.
“We all know ‘The Squad’ and many Democrats hate Israel. No surprise there,” said Senator Rick Scott of Florida, who also took aim at Mr. Biden, accusing the president of “aimlessly supporting everything and nothing.”
Mr. Trump enters Saturday’s event as the crowd favorite, beloved for his record on Israel as president, which included moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and signing the Abraham Accords, an agreement normalizing relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Another anticipated speaker is Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, where she made support for Israel her defining cause.
In prepared remarks provided to The New York Times ahead of her speech Saturday, Ms. Haley rejected liberal calls for a cease-fire, likening the current climate to the 1930s in Europe. She also positioned herself as the best candidate to beat Mr. Biden.
“It took a massacre of biblical proportions to get Joe Biden to stand up for Israel,” Ms. Haley’s prepared remarks said. “I pray that it lasts, but I won’t hold my breath.”