No, Big Bang Theory fans, this post is not about the politics of your favorite Caltech physicist. It’s about that equally strange character who burst onto the presidential scene in 2012 as a lifeline to Newt Gingrich (before becoming the Romney campaign’s top individual donor), casino owner Sheldon Adelson.
You have to hand it to ol’ Sheldon; he doesn’t give up easily. You have to figure the apex of his career as a transcontinental political mogul was that magical evening in Jerusalem in July of 2012 when he was the central figure in a love-fest between his two chief beneficiaries Mitt Romney and Bibi Netanyahu. But instead of exulting in an unequaled position of influence in both the U.S. and Israel, he had to watch as Barack Obama, whose Justice Department Adelson perceives as his blood enemy, won a second term.
Now Adelson’s making it clear he and his wife Miriam are only interested in backing a Republican winner in 2016, per a fascinating report from WaPo’s Matea Gold and Philip Rucker on the behind-the-scenes intrigue at a meeting of the Jewish Republican Coalition on Sheldon’s home turf at the Venetian in Vegas this week:
This time, the Adelsons are plotting their investments based not on personal loyalty, but on a much more strategic aim: to help select a Republican nominee they believe will have broad appeal to an increasingly diverse national electorate.
The change in attitude comes amid early jockeying by a lengthy list of aspiring Republican presidential contenders to win the affections of the billionaire, who is in the beginning stages of assessing the field.
“The bar for support is going to be much higher,” said Andy Abboud, Adelson’s top political adviser and an executive at the Adelson-run Las Vegas Sands Corp. He added, “There’s going to be a lot more scrutiny.”
This strategy would favor more established 2016 hopefuls such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. All four will descend this week on Adelson’s luxury hotel in Las Vegas, the Venetian, for an important step in what some are calling the “Sheldon Primary.”
There’s a fifth potential candidate on Adelson’s radar going into 2016, though, and he happens to be the one leading most national polls of Republicans at the moment:
Adelson has a personal friendship with one possible candidate: former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. In late November, Adelson introduced Huckabee at the Zionist Organization of America’s annual dinner in New York City, where Huckabee received the Adelson Defender of Israel Award. There, the casino magnate called him “a great person, a great American and a great Zionist.” But it remains to be seen whether their friendship would translate into financial support should Huckabee run.
There’s no question that support from the Adelsons would be a godsend for Huck, one of those pols who perpetually struggles to raise money. Indeed, it might not be too much of a stretch to say that winning the Sheldon Primary might be a prerequisite to a Huckabee bid in the real primaries. But he’ll have to stand in the political equivalent of the Venetian buffet line like everybody else:
A senior strategist who has advised past GOP nominees said the 2016 hopefuls “are just falling at his feet.”
“It’s a bunch of people out scrounging for the same dollars, and Sheldon represents the largest or second-largest box of money,” said the strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.
With a net worth of an estimated $37 billion, and a track record of gambling it on political projects, Adelson can bide his time and enjoy the toadying attentions of those who see the next President of the United States in the mirror each morning.