by Eli Clifton
One of the hallmarks of Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party has been his refusal to pander to the party’s donor class. He mocked his opponents in the primaries for soliciting funding from wealthy GOP donors. He even went so far as to suggest that casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson was looking to shape Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), then understood to be Adelson’s preferred candidate, into his “perfect little puppet.” Adelson seemed to forgive the slight in May, indicating that he was willing to contribute in excess of $100 million to support Trump’s candidacy. But there’s been little evidence of Adelson following through on his commitment as Trump’s campaign continues to garner headlines about its dismal fundraising.
The presumptive GOP nominee has raised $66 million compared to Hillary Clinton’s $314 million.
But with Trump reportedly having narrowed his list of running mates down to Gov. Mike Pence, Gov. Chris Christie, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Adelson is quietly indicating his preference. On Tuesday, CNN reported that Adelson had made his wishes known to Trump during a phone call.
Some donors are pressuring Trump to pick Gingrich. A source close to Sheldon Adelson tells CNN that the casino magnate spoke to Trump and mentioned that “he liked Newt.”
“Favoring is a more appropriate term,” the source said of Adelson’s conversation with Trump.
Adelson’s lobbying for Gingrich shouldn’t come as any great surprise. Back in 2012, he invested $15 million to nearly single-handedly keep Gingrich’s primary campaign alive, allowing the long-shot candidate to air blistering ads attacking Romney’s career in private equity and inflicting permanent damage on the frontrunner’s campaign.
In courting Adelson’s backing for the 2012 campaign, Gingrich made a series of comments clearly designed to align himself with the Las Vegas-based billionaire’s hawkish foreign policy views.
During his campaign, Gingrich declared that Palestinians were “an invented people.” He committed to moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on “the day I’m inaugurated” and suggested that he would order a military attack on Iran because, “You have to take whatever steps are necessary to break its capacity to have a nuclear weapon.”
Those are nearly identical positions to those of Adelson, who has also said that “Palestinians are invented people,” proposed dropping a nuclear weapon on Iran instead of negotiating, and reportedly lobbied then-House Speaker Gingrich to assist in a campaign to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Over the past four years, Adelson has invested millions in opposing White House efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and Gingrich has staked out a more extreme position on Iran than most of his GOP colleagues. Last weekend, Gingrich appeared at a gala in Paris for the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian exile group with little legitimacy in Iran that the State Department labeled a terrorist group until 2012. In September, Gingrich described the nuclear agreement as “surrender to the Ayatollah Khomeini” in a Washington Times column.
Trump, for his part, has shown less animosity to the agreement reached by the P5+1 and Iran to constrain Tehran’s nuclear program. Last year, for instance, Trump promised that that he would “renegotiate with Iran.” In January, he complained that Iran was using funds unfrozen as part of the nuclear agreement to buy airliners from Airbus instead of Boeing. And in March, he told AIPAC that he would “dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”
Adelson’s advocacy for Gingrich may be an effort to seek some control over Trump’s erratic positions on Iran and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
How Trump responds to Adelson’s nudge will be a test of Trump’s renunciation of big donors and a measure of how far he will bend to secure the massive funding dangled by the GOP’s biggest individual donor.
Photo: Newt Gingrich (courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr).