Sheldon Adelson's Self-Defeating Meddling

Billionaire's Folly Helped Turn Nation Back to Barack Obama

Cash Cow: Sheldon Adelson’s expensive and self-defeating meddling handed the vote to President Obama. On the morning after Election Day, schadenfreude is a Yiddish word.
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Cash Cow: Sheldon Adelson’s expensive and self-defeating meddling handed the vote to President Obama. On the morning after Election Day, schadenfreude is a Yiddish word.

By Samuel G. Freedman

Published November 07, 2012, issue of November 16, 2012.
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In late July, Sheldon Adelson pledged $6.5 million of his casino empire’s fortune, and potentially as much as $100 million, to a campaign by the Republican Jewish Coalition. It was aimed at peeling away Jewish voters from the incumbent Democratic president, Barack Obama, in potential swing states like Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Just to underscore the point, the Adelson announcement came as the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, was traveling to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, another one of the magnate’s favored politicians.

Well, we now know that Adelson emphatically succeeded in his goal of affecting the presidential election. The only thing is, he succeeded in re-electing Obama. In the broad sense, the national campaign saw the newly unlimited corporate and personal political spending by SuperPACs mostly harm Republicans by fueling a vicious primary race that bloodied up even its victor. In the very specific case of Adelson, his role as Newt Gingrich’s bankroller may well have cost Republicans the White House.

Admittedly, it is difficult if not impossible to prove a counter-factual. (Just ask President Obama, who had to persuade disappointed voters how much worse the economy would have been without his stimulus bill.) To comprehend how Adelson unintentionally assisted his enemy requires the leap of imagination — “What if?” — of an alt-history novel. Finally, the point here is not about a Jewish conspiracy in the person of Adelson. Rather, the point here is about hubris unhinged.

Just pause for a moment to consider what happened during the Republican primaries. Adelson and his wife Miriam poured an estimated $20 million into a SuperPAC that supported the quixotic campaign of Gingrich. Thrice married, a polarizing figure for 20 years, and a card wild enough to assail Romney about Bain Capital’s predatory style, Gingrich was never, ever going to win the Republican presidential nomination. What he did manage to do, however, once endowed with Adelson’s riches, was deny the nomination to the man who might well have defeated Obama: former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

Everything that Mitt Romey so flagrantly lacked, everything that he looked transparently artificial in trying to express, was what Santorum embodied naturally, in his family history, in his bones. He was a conservative Catholic whose consistent record against abortion and gay marriage genuinely energized the GOP’s evangelical Christian base. He was the product of immigrant parents, grew up in the steel and coal region of western Pennsylvania, and had built an organic constituency in the industrial heartland.


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