Reading Tea Leaves in the Adelson Primary
By Eli Clifton and Ali Gharib February 9, 2016
What Republican contender will Sheldon Adelson, and potentially his tens of millions of dollars, end up backing this election cycle? So far, the GOP megadonor has avoided revealing his top choice, but the hints have slowly poured in.
It was revealed the week of his Iowa victory that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) recently received the maximum personal donations of $2,700 each from Adelson and his wife, Miriam. Cruz, who is said to be the preference of Miriam Adelson, seems like a natural ally for Sheldon Adelson, too: they’re both überhawks with a soft-spot for carpet-bombing everything in the Middle East. That said, Cruz has had a sometimes-rocky relationship with neoconservative ideologues—a cohort that Adelson funds to the tune of millions of dollars. Just last week, we took stock of Cruz’s attacks against neocons and, subsequently, their baffling forgiveness of him.
However, as we recently noted, Sen. Marco Rubio’s strong third-place finish in Iowa put him in attractive territory for Adelson. While the Republican establishment reviles Cruz, Rubio has long been the establishment’s best hope. The strong showing in Iowa reinforced the notion that Rubio could be the most electorally viable of an extremely hawkish Republican field. Yes, Cruz won the caucuses, but Iowa was well suited to his evangelical bluster. Rubio could attract wider appeal as well as the backing of key elites within the party.
What Happens in Vegas
This week, there are signs that Adelson’s network of associates and media properties is coming around strongly for Rubio. He received the endorsement of one such media property, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which Adelson purchased for $140 million in December under somewhat mysterious circumstances (at first, no one was able to pinpoint the paper’s buyer). The Review-Journal, which did some of the best reporting on the controversies around its own sale, noted in its mid-December coverage that Adelson’s son-in-law, Patrick Dumont, who runs the Adelson family’s finances, had orchestrated the buy.
Dumont, for his part, has been busy giving political donations: according to the latest releases, on November 18 he contributed $2,700 to Rubio and $2,700 to Cruz. He also sent $10,200 to Rubio’s joint fundraising committee on December 24, 2014.
In its endorsement the Review-Journal added, rather defensively, that the Adelsons had nothing to do with the decision. The endorsement itself shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The paper is known to lean libertarian, but it also harbors a streak that might be best categorized as establishment conservative.
What’s more, there are reasons to doubt the editorial board’s complete independence from Adelson’s agenda. Just last month, the Review-Journal published another editorial that took up a pet cause pushed by Adelson and his Las Vegas Sands Corporation: building a new stadium in Las Vegas. What’s more, the paper specifically promoted Sands’ role in and guidance on the project. Sure, this is an important matter for the city, and Sands is an indisputable player in the affair. But the repeated quotations of Sands’ government affairs official, Andy Abboud, smacked of the editorial board giving direct voice to Adelson in this affair. (Abboud, in turn, promoted the editorial on Twitter.) Adelson might not be part of the Review-Journal’s endorsement procedures, but he certainly seems to be a force in the editorial board’s decision-making.
Meanwhile in Israel
The Review-Journal isn’t Adelson’s only media property. The distinction for most notorious Adelson newspaper goes to his free Israeli daily, called Israel Hayom, which serves as a mouthpiece for the Israeli right, most notably in its unmitigated boosterism of the Adelson-backed Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Columnists at Israel Hayom, for their part, have been positively gushing about Rubio’s third place finish in Iowa. The campaign could not have wished for better media coverage, except perhaps that it would come in the American media. (There’s another connection here worth mentioning: Patrick Dumont, who runs Adelson’s finances, is married to Sivan Ochshorn Dumont, the daughter of Adelson’s wife, Miriam, from a previous marriage. Ochshorn Dumont runs Israel Hayom.)
Other signs, too, point to Adelson’s tilt toward Rubio. J. Philip Rosen, a former chairman of American friends of Likud (Netanyahu’s rightist party), endorsed Rubio. Rosen, whose Twitter feed is dominated by putdowns of Obama (e.g. claiming Obama feels “entitled to screw Israel”) and praise for Rubio, also sits on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), a neoconservative outfit where Adelson also holds a seat on the board and has been described as a “major funder.”
And not only has the de facto press organ of the Likud Party—Israel Hayom—come out for Rubio, but party officials have themselves been speaking out, albeit on background:
When asked whether Rosen and Adelson’s pro-Rubio signals mean anything for the Likud in Israel, a senior party official who asked to remain anonymous said no, but expressed strong support for the Florida senator.
“Of course we prefer Republicans over Democrats,” the Likud official said in the Knesset last week. “The Likud and the Republicans have a lot in common, ideologically.”
The official said he would prefer Rubio, but that Cruz would be a good choice, too.
Adelson doesn’t dictate the positions of either the RJC or the Likud. But it seems unlikely that officials from either organization would come out so strongly without at least giving a thought to where the billionaire was likely to land. After all, they know where they get their bread buttered.
The Adelson primary seems to be boiling down to Cruz or Rubio, and leaning strongly in Rubio’s favor. Watching the upcoming Republican primaries will probably offer more hints, specifically about which candidate will make it to the convention or be more electable in the general. (Not that Adelson is above throwing a little money at lost causes; remember Newt Gingrich?) This much seems clear already: between Cruz and Rubio, Adelson has two candidates, two shots at getting someone out of the primaries who will share his right-wing, super-hawkish, and revanchist pro-Israel views. Either candidate would be a natural fit for his millions come the general election. Adelson, in other words, has two birds in the hand, and they seem to be worth more than one Bush.