Whether or not Newt Gingrich can carry on a real campaign against Mitt Romney for several more weeks or even months depends in large measure on his political guardian angel, the Las Vegas casino billionaire and fierce Israel hawk Sheldon Adelson. Adelson’s camp won’t say whether the mogul will donate any money beyond the $10 million that he and his wife have already given to the pro-Newt Super PAC Winning Our Future, whose advertising has provided a kind of life support for Gingrich’s poorly-funded campaign. One thing we know is that Adelson still has a lot of money to give. By my math, that $10 million represents about .046% of Adelson’s $21.5 billion fortune as estimated by Forbes.
But we know two other things. One is that Adelson wants to see Barack Obama lose in November. The other is that he does not dislike Mitt Romney. Some people might assume Adelson to be an unusually rich member of the GOP’s anyone-but-Mitt society. Not so, an Adelson associate told me when I profiled the man for last week’s issue. “He is fond of Governor Romney,” the associate said. “He’s made it clear that in no way, shape or form is [Adelson’s support of Gingrich] meant to signal dissatisfaction with governor Romney or his campaign.” Specifically, Adelson does not have qualms about Romney’s views of Israel and Middle East policy, which is what seems to drive Adelson’s politics. (Click here to see a shot of Romney schmoozing with Adelson–who, I’ll admit, seems to be regarding the candidate with some skepticism–at a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting at Adelson’s Venetian hotel and casino last April.) Adelson has backed Gingrich out of friendship and loyalty, and perhaps slight policy preference–Gingrich is more strident than Romney on Israel policy–but not because he dislikes or fears Romney.
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Consider that context, then, when you read stories indicating that Adelson is gently backing away from Gingrich. To some degree this may be Adelson showing his discomfort with media attention. But I suspect there’s more to it. Like many conservative Jewish-Americans, Adelson believes that Obama won’t guarantee the safety and survival of Israel, and that Romney and Newt will. At this point, logic dictates an obvious path forward. If Adelson doesn’t see a great difference between Gingrich and Romney on Israel, but does see a vast gulf between both Republican candidates and Obama, then he should turn his attention towards beating the President. And by most appraisals, that means telling Newt he’s had his chance and it’s time to rally around the likely nominee, Mitt Romney.
I can’t say that’s what will happen. Billionaires aren’t always paragons of rational, clear-headed thinking. And Adelson’s personal loyalty to Gingrich might trump such political calculations. But you can bet that Establishment Republicans across the country are pleading for Adelson to stop giving his chips to Gingrich when there’s a player with better odds to stake.
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