That’s really the only word that comes to mind after reading Dana Milbank’s account today of the recent GOP pilgrimage to Sin City to kiss the ring of Sheldon Adelson, the 9th richest man in the world, and quite possibly the most ideologically driven of them all. That’s not to say he can pick winners. Remember, Sheldon bombed as kingmaker in the 2014 elections (in fact, most people believe he actually blew the Republicans’ chances in the race entirely). He chose to plow $16 million of his personal coin into Republican has-been Newt Gingrich, who, let’s be serious, only runs for president these days to bolster his own marketing and fundraising schemes. The only effect was to injure Mitt Romney in the primary. Romney never fully recovered, and lost terribly to President Obama in November, despite of an infusion of Adelson cash later on. As they say, ‘heck of a job.
But that hasn’t stopped the first crop of 2016 nominee wannabes from jumping to Adelson’s whistle: Republican Party players John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Scott Walker spent the weekend kowtowing like sops in a display Hollywood couldn’t have sketched out better. Mindful of their party’s family values, no doubt, they guilelessly delivered themselves up to the mogul of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation empire, square in the epicenter of blackjack and booze, prostitutes and pleasure. Milbank :
Adelson was hosting the Republican Jewish Coalition at his Venetian hotel and gambling complex, and the would-be candidates paraded themselves before the group, hoping to catch the 80-year-old casino mogul’s eye. Everybody knows that, behind closed doors, politicians often sell themselves to the highest bidder; this time, they were doing it in public, as if vending their wares at a live auction.
Adelson has bestowed great generosity on Republicans — $150 million in post-Citizens United cash to their candidates and causes during the last presidential election cycle — but clearly only those that adhere to his own fervently hawkish views on the Middle East. Adelson is unabashed defender of Israel who, according to The New York Times, “opposes any territorial compromise to make way for a Palestinian state.” He is openly Islamophobic, saying at one point that “not all Islamists are terrorists, but all the terrorists are Islamists,” and defending Gingrich with vigor when the former Speaker of the House famously declared Palestinians “an invented people.”
Adelson has been known to underwrite congressional boondoggles to Israel, helping to shape their views on foreign policy. His attempt at influencing outcomes doesn’t end at the border. In 2007, according to The New York Times, Adelson started a free daily newspaper widely viewed as supportive of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “a close friend who shares his hawkish outlook.” The NYT also noted that at one point, Adelson was rumored to be calling for the ouster of Condoleezza Rice from the Bush Administration because she — and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — were “betraying Israel.”
Anything close to an Adelson foreign policy in the White House would be a nightmare, and most likely everyone knows it but that hasn’t kept power-desperate Republicans from taking his money. Aside from the millions he wasted on Gingrich, he’s sprinkled millions on other hawks, like John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, George W. Bush, and Eric Cantor, too.
And he’s known as a street fighter — aside from making his fortune in one of the most predatory and exploitive industries there is, in 2013 Adelson admitted he “might” have violated federal bribery laws during an ongoing investigation of his dealings with the Chinese. Adelson owns five of Macau’s 35 casinos (including the biggest, the Venetian Macau) and reportedly wants a much bigger imprint on the Chinese mainland. Investigators want to know more amid a number lawsuits alleging that Adelson bribed officials to exploit Macau, and to pursue his commercial interests in Beijing. According to Wikipedia, Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands brought in $4.2 billion in Macau-generated revenue in 2011 alone.
Many have sued Adelson, but not all win. According to The New York Times, his own sons sued him, alleged he cheated them, but they lost. Meanwhile Adelson is always suing others, and sometimes he wins. He filed a libel suit against a Las Vegas newspaper columnist, John L. Smith, who eventually had to declare bankruptcy. He won a libel suit against the Daily Mail of London in 2008. The newspaper had accused him of pursuing “despicable business practices” and having “habitually and corruptly bought political favour.” Adelson said it was “a grave slur” on his “personal integrity and business reputation”, and he won a judgment of approximately £4 million as a result.
He filed a similar suit against a Wall Street Journal writer in 2012 who called him “a scrappy, foul-mouthed billionaire from working-class Dorchester, Mass.”
Adelson may have a team of lawyers to defend his name in the courtroom, and he may be able to call in the chits when he wants to massage or push legislation his way on the Hill, but delivering the next president is a fantasy he will likely never see realized. His zealousness appears to cloud his vision when it comes to picking favorites, and his favorites risk looking tawdry and bought when they take his money. And my, they look really foolish when they beg for it. According to Milbank:
Walker, the Wisconsin governor, pandered unabashedly by giving the Hebrew meaning of his son Matthew’s name and by mentioning that he displays a menorah at home along with the Christmas tree. And Christie, the New Jersey governor, gushed about his trip to Israel and the “occupied territories.”
That was a gaffe. Pro-Israel hawks consider the term pejorative and, at any rate, the more relevant occupied territory at the moment is the Republican Party — wholly occupied by billionaires.
But will they occupy the White House? If this kind of behavior is any indication, the answer is no.