Is Sheldon warming up to the Donald?
Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, not known usually for being shy about his political views, has avoided expressing support for any of the GOP presidential candidates.
But Adelson is spreading hints in recent weeks, and they all point toward Donald Trump, the only candidate in the race who doesn’t really need Adelson’s oversized campaign donations.
One way of gauging Adelson’s political leaning is by following the coverage on the pages of his Israeli daily newspaper Israel Hayom. And in recent weeks Adelson’s publication clearly indicating a warming up to the New York businessman.
The paper’s headline today was unmistakable: “Your Friend is Leading the Race,” Trump is quoted telling the Israel Hayom. “I was always your friend even in the toughest moments and that’s not going to change,” Trump is further quoted. Highlighted on the front page is a photo of Trump with Israel Hayon’s foreign news editor Boaz Bismuth, during the brief interview at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
What follows is a fawning quick interview, conducted at the entrance of Trump’s mansion after the conclusion of his victory speech summing up Tuesday’s round of primary votes.
“As I went up the stairs, I heard a familiar voice. A tall, broad man was standing there with his back to me, talking, laughing, and being photographed. I recognized Trump’s back and approached him,” Bismuth describes the moments leading up to his encounter with Trump.
“Nice to see you. This is a big day for you,” Bismuth shoots off the first question, only to hear Trump agree that it was indeed a big day for him. “No one gave me a chance, you remember. We talked about it. And now support for me is only growing,” Trump added, referring to a previous interview he had given Bismuth last month in Las Vegas.
“Is your success good news for Israel?” the Israeli journalist continues, to which Trump promises that it’s “tremendous news for Israel.”
The interview then touches briefly on Trump’s comments regarding his opposition to the nuclear deal signed with Iran, and ends without a mention of Trump’s pledge to remain neutral on the Israeli – Palestinian issue, or of other burning questions regarding violence in his campaign events or of his comments deemed by many in the Jewish community as tinged with racism.
Bismuth, who during the February 23 Las Vegas Republican caucuses was photographed next to Sheldon and Miriam Adelson when they went to cast their vote, was profoundly impressed by his visit to Trump’s Florida estate. “Each new meeting with Trump is just as fascinating as the previous one,” he wrote. “What journalist would not want a one-on-one interview with this man? And who would not want an invite to the lavish and exclusive Mar-a-Lago Club?”
Bismuth’s article comes on the heels of an interview the Israel Hayom ran on March 13 with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, in which he showered praised on Trump, calling him “a very good man” and accusing the press on focusing negatively on the Republican frontrunner. The paper also ran another interview with Trump in February. Trump then promised to be a “true friend of Israel in the White House.”
While interviews with the Republican frontrunner are clearly a worthy news item for any international publication and are of great interest for Israelis who follow American politics closely, the choice of featuring these interviews so prominently and avoiding any critical mention when writing about the controversial candidate, can be easily interpreted as a signal indicating the political preference of the paper’s owners.
Adelson, who played a major role in the 2012 primary race, decided to sit out this campaign and wait until the field clears and a frontrunner emerges. Now, he may be indicating that Trump is his man.
Another clue provided by Adelson was in an off-the-cuff comment he made during a February 27 event at his Venetian hotel in Vegas and first reported yesterday by Israeli political writer Tal Schneider. “Trump is a businessman. I am a businessman. He employs a lot of people. I employed 50,000 people. Why not?” Adelson said, apparently after being asked about possibly supporting Trump. Adelson then went on to tell an old joke about Jews always answering questions with another question.
Adelson could easily find shared goals with Trump on business matters he cares about, including regulation of online gambling in order to help casino owners like himself and Trump. However, on Adelson’s other priority, supporting the state of Israel, Trump has strayed away from the Republican party line and has promised to be “neutral” when brokering an Israeli – Palestinian peace accord.
Adelson, according to political insiders who had been in touch with him, had initially leaned toward either Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, but now, as the race narrowed and with Trump emerging as the inevitable nominee, the Vegas billionaire may be shifting his support toward Trump.
And the good news for Adelson – it won’t cost him a penny. While other primary candidates had hoped to tap into Adelson’s generous political funding operation that helped sustain Newt Gingrich in his failed 2012 race, Trump isn’t asking for money. Trump claims to rely mainly on self funding, allowing Adelson to keep his cash for the general election.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.