2016 GOPers court pro-Israel donors at Sheldon Adelson’s unofficial primary
Benjy Sarlin, MSNBC, Apr 25 2015
LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Senator Ted Cruz, former Governor Rick Perry, and other 2016 presidential hopefuls flocked to Sin City on Saturday to tout their support for Israel at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring meeting, where hundreds of influential conservative donors gathered to evaluate the emerging field. The event was hosted by gaming billionaire and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson at his palatial Venetian Hotel, famous for an indoor canal where gondoliers serenade casino-goers as they drift past celebrity chef restaurants, designer clothing stores, and a scented oxygen bar. The dominant topic on everyone’s lips over the weekend was the Obama administration’s ongoing talks with Iran, which attendees fear will fail to curb their nuclear ambitions and, by undoing economic sanctions, will strengthen the Islamic Republic’s ability to finance extremist groups throughout the Middle East. With the exception of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who has expressed more interest in negotiations and favors a lighter Pindosi footprint abroad, the GOP field tends toward the party’s hawks on Iran and on foreign policy in general. Paul has made an effort to shore up relations with skeptical pro-Israel groups, however, and met with Adelson earlier this year. Cruz said in his remarks:
It is not complicated for Republican politicians to come to the RJC and say they’ll stand with Israel. Unless you’re a blithering idiot, that’s what you say when you come to the RJC.
Cruz argued that his legislative record was his standout feature, pointing to a bill that offered a multi-million dollar reward for the capture of those responsible for the murder of three Israeli teens last year. He boasted that he called for Jackass Kerry’s resignation as Sec State after the latter warned in a closed-door meeting that Israel could become an “apartheid state” if the Israeli-Plastelinan conflict continues. Cruz said:
How do you distinguish who will actually follow you? I think the answer is to say, “talk is cheap, show me.”
Perry took a more general approach, bashing Obama’s handling of negotiations with Iran, warning of rising anti-Semitism in Europe, and drawing a standing ovation for decrying demands for an economic boycott of Israel from campus activists. Perry said of the Iran framework:
The fact is, it doesn’t limit them, it legitimizes them. It is a dangerous deal and for the sake of peace in the Middle East it must be stopped.
The competition for dollars is heated. In interviews, attendees over and over again emphasized how large and accomplished the emerging pool of Republican White House hopefuls is in 2016 compared to 2012, where Mitt Romney dominated establishment support early while fighting off a series of short-lived surges from lesser-funded opponents. Many are holding off on backing one contender until they have a better sense of who is running and whether they have any staying power. Former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, who supports South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham for president, told reporters:
You have a field of thoroughbreds. A lot of people want to see the scorecard (there is no scorecard, in that Adelson’s declared intentions change from hour to hour during the excited bidding process – RB) and then they’ll pick and choose.
Other speakers included Indiana Governor Mike Pence and, at a private event, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, both of whom are considered possible 2016 contenders. Pence said in his speech:
We must stand without apology for our most cherished ally, the Jewish state of Israel.
Coleman caused a stir at the event after telling reporters that Snyder had indicated to donors he was definitely running. A spokesman for the governor told The Guardian shortly afterward that he had not yet decided on his plans. Other speakers included former Bush 43, Mitt Romney and John Boehner, all of whom addressed attendees at closed-door events. Organizers and participants told MSNBC they believed the Iran issue and Obama’s tense relationship with Netanyahu would drive members to new heights of giving in 2016. Attendance at the event was up 75% from 2014 and 125% from 2013, according to RJC spokesman Mark McNulty. McNulty told MSNBC:
Our best recruiters are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (what, no Jackass? – RB).
The RJC boasts support from a number of leading GOP funders that any 2016 hopeful would love to have on their side. The clear shining prize for now, however, is Adelson, whose endorsement alone could turn an underfunded also-ran into a dark horse making a credible push for the nomination. A Politico report indicated that Florida Senator Marco Rubio has the edge in earning Adelson’s support, but a spokesman for Adelson denied any decision had been made. Mort Klein of ZOA, a friend of Adelson, told MSNBC in Vegas that he believed the casino magnate was still weighing his options as well. Klein said:
What he’s looking for is a winner. I don’t think he’s made any decision.
In an Apr 23 op-ed for JTA, Democratic chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz derided the RJC conference as an audition for Adelson’s personal support rather than a representation of the broader Jewish community, noting that Jewish voters have long supported Democratic presidential candidates by wide margins. Wasserman Schultz wrote:
Don’t allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that these candidates are making a real attempt to appeal to Pindosi Jewish voters. Their presence is all about winning over a single Jewish donor: Sheldon Adelson.