Washington Watch: Consolation prize

The Adelsons may have had a bad year in the mid-term congressional races, but they got a good return on their earlier investment in Donald Trump.

Miriam Adelson at the inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Miriam Adelson at the inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018
Twice in the past six years, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson spent millions of dollars trying to defeat two staunchly pro-Israel Jewish women running for the Senate despite their long records of support for their own community and for the Jewish state.
They apparently had one mortal flaw. They are Democrats.
Adelson, 85, and his wife, Miriam, are the largest contributors to the Republican Party. This year they reportedly gave an estimated $120 million to help Republicans in a disastrous year for their party, according to The New York Times. The GOP barely picked up two Senate seats but lost 39 seats and control of the House.
The Democrats’ biggest donor this year is also Jewish, Michael Bloomberg, who reportedly spent $110 million to help Democrats win the House. The former New York mayor, who has been a Republican, Democrat and Independent over the years, is considering running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.
Jews voted nearly 80% Democratic in this year’s mid-terms, according to exit polls. The incoming Senate will have no Republican Jews once again, and there will still be only two in the House when it convenes in January. They will be returning Representatives Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee.
Across the aisle will be 20 Jewish Democrats in the House and eight in the Senate. Many will be chairing top House committees, and New York’s Chuck Schumer will be the Senate minority leader.
The Adelsons may have had a bad year in the mid-term congressional races, but they got a good return on their earlier investment in Donald Trump.
Their own Nevada senator, however, Dean Heller, was the only Republican incumbent senator defeated, and he was the Adelsons’ top priority.
They backed Heller six years ago when he ran against Rep. Shelly Berkley. She had worked for Adelson as a legal counsel and they had a falling out over his anti-union business practices, which led many observers to believe the billionaire’s opposition to her candidacy was as much grudge as partisanship. Heller was a rare success for the Adelsons in 2012; they’d put an estimated $80 million in to the losing campaigns of Mitt Romney and many other Republicans that year.
Once again Heller’s senate seat was on the line, and his opponent was another Jewish woman, Jacky Rosen. The first-term congresswoman liked to remind voters that was also a former synagogue president.
Trump came out to campaign for Heller and attacked Rosen as “Wacky Jacky.” His misogyny may have contributed to her victory, making her the third Jewish woman ever elected to the Senate. The other two are California Democrats Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
The Adelsons not only poured big money into Heller’s campaign but also gave him the enthusiastic backing of the state’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which they also own.
Adelson’s millions may have had a bad year on Capitol Hill but they proved a good investment at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Three years ago candidate Trump dissed Adelson and his Rich Jews Club, aka the Republican Jewish Coalition, calling them a bunch of hondlers and told them they couldn’t buy him because he didn’t need their money.
They didn’t care much for him, either. The Adelsons were backing Sen. Marco Rubio (Sheldon) and Sen. Ted Cruz (Miriam), who were calling the couple regularly to say all the right things while the failed casino operator from Queens was his usual arrogant self.
Trump at the time claimed neutrality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, refused to commit himself on moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and wouldn’t promise to abrogate the Iranian nuclear deal on Day One.
But he soon learned he couldn’t self-finance his campaign, as he once boasted, and turned to the Adelsons. Opening their checkbook apparently opened Trump’s mind.
The Adelsons also have been putting a lot of money into efforts to combat antisemitism on college campuses, but party loyalty seemed to trump Trump’s tolerance of white supremacists, racists, neo-Nazis and assorted other antisemites.
The couple’s willingness to overlook Trump’s intolerance paid off. After considerable noodging, the president announced recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. That seemingly motivated the Adelsons to up their investment in the GOP this year despite its inability to attract Jewish voters or candidates.
Another Adelson investment, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made no secret of his preference for Republicans, didn’t seem to help the party this year, either. Perhaps as a consolation prize for spending so much for so little, this very transactional president had a consolation prize. He awarded Miriam Adelson, 73, an Israeli-born physician and naturalized citizen, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
It is the nation’s highest civilian honor and often given by presidents to political supporters as well as prominent figures. Several Israelis, including Shimon Peres and Natan Sharansky, are past recipients. Other honorees this year included Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth, Antonin Scalia, Sen. Orrin Hatch and former football stars Roger Staubach and Alan Page.
In the White House ceremony, Trump credited Sheldon Adelson with persuading him to move the embassy and “he’s probably angry” that his wife got the award and not he. She was a surprise choice. Regarding her selection, the White House said, “As a committed member of the American Jewish community, she has supported Jewish schools, Holocaust memorial organizations, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and Birthright Israel, among other causes.”
More valuable than the medal is an open line to the president, who has reportedly lobbied at least one foreign leader, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on behalf of Adelson’s business interests.
That’s the art of the deal.