by Eli Clifton
From most outward appearances, Sheldon Adelson is losing patience with Donald Trump, whose candidacy he supported with $10-$25 million (depending on the source). The GOP megadonor is now shifting his attention down ballot in an effort to save the Republican majority in the Senate. His priority has become rescuing the political career of his preferred 2016 presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is currently running in a tight race against challenger Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL).
On Monday, the Adelson-owned Las Vegas Review Journal became the first major U.S. newspaper to endorse Trump, but other signs point to a serious rift between the casino billionaire and the GOP nominee. News broke shortly before last Wednesday’s debate that Adelson, the GOP’s single largest donor and a generous supporter of groups and politicians opposed to the Iran nuclear deal, was experiencing buyer’s remorse after throwing his support behind Trump.
Frustrated with Trump’s lack of discipline and attacks on fellow Republicans and the media, Adelson told an unnamed “associate” that “Trump doesn’t listen to anyone—not even his family or Steve Bannon,” according to Fox Business. “I like Trump less and less,” Adelson added.
On Friday, CNN’s Theodore Schleifer wrote that Adelson may have spent as much as $25 million to back Trump’s White House run and described Adelson’s frustration with the candidate. He wrote:
But in recent weeks, according to multiple people familiar with his thinking, Adelson has grown frustrated with his candidate’s performance on the campaign trail. People who have spoken with him say he has bemoaned Trump’s lack of focus and what he sees as squandered opportunities, instead choosing to launch intra-party attacks on Republican leaders such as House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“Sheldon’s got to protect the House and the Senate, and Trump’s going after that isn’t helpful,” said one person who has spoken with Adelson recently. “He’s really upset with the way Trump’s been running his campaign.”
Indeed, Adelson appears to be throwing some generous support to Marco Rubio, who is facing a contentious reelection battle against Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL). The two biggest spenders in the Senate race are supporting Rubio and receive significant funding from Adelson and his wife, Miriam. The Senate Leadership Fund SuperPAC spent at least $10.1 million against Murphy, according to OpenSecrets.org data. That expenditure makes the Florida Senate race its biggest investment, and the SuperPAC is the biggest outside spender in the race. The two Adelsons each contributed $10 million to Senate Leadership Fund at the end of August.
The second biggest outside spender in the race, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), spent at least $2.9 million supporting Rubio. The Adelsonsare the NRSC’s biggest donors, contributing over $1 million in the 2016 cycle.
Saving Rubio’s Senate seat may hold a special interest for Sheldon Adelson. Besides potentially adding to the possibility of a Democratic takeover of the Senate, Rubio was one of the leading senators opposing the White House’s efforts to negotiate the JCPOA and threatened to “absolutely” revoke the Iran nuclear deal if he became president. He even went so far as to sign Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) March 2015 letter, seeking to make common cause with Iran’s hardliners to thwart the ongoing nuclear negotiations. Rubio also reflects Adelson’s hawkish pro-Israel views, slamming the Obama administration for criticizing Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Adelson, and other opponents of the JCPOA, may see the Florida Senate race as a mini-referendum on the nuclear agreement reached last year. Rubio’s opponent, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL), supported the nuclear agreement and secured the endorsement of JStreetPAC, which is associated with the Democratic Party-aligned “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group.
J Street supported the Obama administration’s diplomatic initiative to constrain Iran’s nuclear program and JStreetPAC is the biggest source of PAC money for Murphy’s campaign committee. JStreetPAC has directed $72,898 to support Murphy.
Photo of Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.