As Christie Watch has reported several times in the last few weeks, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be among several leading Republicans gathering Thursday at Sheldon Adelson’s casino in Las Vegas for the annual get-together of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC). Christie will be jockeying among Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and John Kasich for the blessing of Adelson, a super-billionaire and gambling magnate who’ll soon be deciding where to place his bets in what the Washington Post calls “the Sheldon Primary."
Among other things, the RJC is a pillar of the neoconservative wing of the GOP, and they’re sure to line up strongly against the libertarian, Rand Paul wing of the party—and it’s unlikely that they’ll support unguided missiles such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, either—although lately Rubio has tried to recast himself as a foreign policy hardliner.
According to Forbes, Adelson’s personal wealth is more than $38 billion, making him the eighth richest person in the United States. In 2012, Adelson, a hard-right activist and staunchly pro-Likud backer, singlehandedly kept Newt Gingrich’s campaign alive, though no one except Adelson—including GOP primary voters—believed Gingrich had a prayer of becoming president. (Adelson gave $15 million to Gingrich’s super PAC in 2011-12. Then, when Gingrich dropped out, Adelson poured $30 million into Romney’s campaign.) This time around, and reflecting the growing belief among the stalwarts of the Republican center-right—including the US Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove, et al.—that the party can’t allow itself to support one of the Tea Party-backed extremists in 2016, Adelson has reportedly decided to throw his bottomless cash at one of the plausible center-right, “moderate” Republicans: Christie, Bush, Kasich or Walker. The Post quotes Victor Chaltiel, a close friend of Adelson’s and himself a big GOP donor:
He doesn’t want a crazy extremist to be the nominee. He wants someone who has the chance to win the election, who is reasonable in his positions, who has convictions but is not totally crazy.
Last summer, when Christie was riding high, he was a magnet for the support of a wide range of hedge fund managers and other billionaires, and according to the Las Vegas Sun Christie visited Adelson last August, to get cash for his 2013 reelection bid, which he won in November. But with Christie in trouble, Adelson is obviously considering his options.
It is, at least, ironic that backers of Adelson say that the billionaire will support people who aren’t “totally crazy,” since that description seems to fit Adelson himself. With a long list of extremist views and statements in his wake, perhaps Adelson’s most outrageous was made in 2013, when he called for using nuclear weapons against Iran rather than negotiate:
What are we going to negotiate about? What I would say is, “Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.” You pick up your cellphone…and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘OK, let it go.’ So there’s an atomic weapon goes over, ballistic missiles, in the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever. Then you say: “See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development. You want to be peaceful? You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it all and we will guarantee you that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, for energy purposes.” So.
You have to appreciate that “so” at the end.
And the Post quotes Ari Fleischer, the former aide to and spokesman for George W. Bush, and who serves on RJC’s board:
Certainly the "Sheldon Primary" is an important primary for any Republican running for president. It goes without saying that anybody running for the Republican nomination would want to have Sheldon at his side.
In a separate piece, analyzing the prospects for a Jeb Bush vs. Hillary Clinton race in 2016, Fleischer told the Post that he believes that Jeb Bush, whose prospects have improved since Christie became ensnared in the swirl of scandals around Bridgegate and the Superstorm Sandy aid, will run:
I used to think there was no chance Jeb was going to run and I’ve changed my opinion. Jeb would be a fascinating candidate. He’s a former governor of Florida, he does so well with the Hispanic vote, his focus on education. He has a very modern appeal.
According to a spokesman for the RJC, Bush will speak at a closed-door, VIP dinner on Thursday evening, an event that won’t be open to the press. Christie, Kasich and Walker will appear along with Dick Cheney, John Bolton and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer during the rest of the conference. The Christie, Walker and Kasich speeches will be open to the press, according to the RJC.
According to the Post and to Time magazine, Christie, Walker, Bush and Kasich will each get to huddle with Adelson in private tête-à-têtes.