Sheldon Adelson May Be Able to Afford to Bet on Trump, but Israel Can’t

Right now, Trump wants Adelson’s money and Adelson wants to give it to him – but how can we know if the relationship will last?

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Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas, May 2015.
Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas, May 2015. A good old-fashioned shtadlan.Credit: AP

It feels like a very long time ago since Donald J. Trump told a room full of the GOP’s most committed and influential Jews that “I know why you’re not going to support me. You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.”

That Republican Jewish Coalition candidate forum actually took place less than six months ago, last December in New York. But in the insanely compressed roller coaster ride of the 2016 presidential primaries, it feels like light years ago.

Everything is different now. Sheldon Adelson, the 82-year-old CEO of Las Vegas Sands and primary financial supporter of the RJC, not only chose to throw his political support behind Trump immediately after the billionaire businessman became the presumptive presidential nominee, he is actively urging other Republican Jews to do so. Adelson is reportedly willing to invest up to $100 million to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t appear likely that Trump is going to turn down the offer.

In short, the opposite of what Trump said in December is true: A Republican Jew – Adelson – is supporting Trump and Trump does want his money.

It’s clear that Adelson knows how to play odds Vegas-style by how he operated during the Republican primary season. Betting correctly that this year money wouldn’t buy a candidate victory, Adelson neither financially supported any of the 17 GOP hopefuls in any substantial way or openly choose a favorite. Impatient pundits (present company included) clamored to know who he was backing, examining every move – most of which pointed to a preference to Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. But like a wise gambler, he held his cards close to his chest, maintained a poker face and chose not to lay his chips down where they might go to waste.

The speed at which Adelson declared support for Trump suggests that he made his decision a while back. Like Fox anchor Megyn Kelly and House Speaker and convention chairman Paul Ryan, he is choosing party loyalty over nasty Trump sniping like this tweet:

Adelson is a private citizen and can choose to support any candidate he pleases. But in the organized Jewish community and Israel, he is a great deal more. Like him or hate him, he can’t be ignored. He has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Jewish and Israeli life, not to mention the outsized debt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu owes him.

So when Adelson declares: “I will not sit idly by and let Hillary Clinton become the next president,” and chooses to use his considerable influence on Trump’s behalf, it matters.

His doing so has turned the deep split in Republican Jews into a chasm – on one side Adelson, and the #neverTrump “renegade Jews” on the other. A swathe of Jewish conservatives say that supporting Trump is impossible.

Bethany Mandel passionately presented the Jewish Republican case against Trump as an attempt to “try to protect the very fabric of the American experiment. And as is increasingly clear, our loss would mean the ascendency of hate, and an America as unpalatable for Jews as much of Europe already is.”

So where does that leave Israel? Following their meeting in New York, Adelson told the leaders of the RJC that “he will be a tremendous president when it comes to the safety and security of Israel.” He said that “the consequences to our country, and Israel, are far too great to take” the “risk” of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

Somehow, we are supposed to believe that Adelson’s millions will wave a magic wand and erase Trump’s contradictory and troubling statements on Israel and the Middle East over the course of the primary campaigns, all of which point to an utter lack of any ideological beliefs or core values which guarantee a stable alliance between Israel and the United States. We are supposed to be reassured that Trump’s vague assurances should paper over the fact that not only does he seem to have no knowledge or expertise on the region, but instead of surrounding himself with Middle East experts and advisers, he prefers to rely on his lawyers and his son-in-law for foreign policy guidance.

But underneath it all, fundamentally, there is the question of character. The foundation of an alliance is consistency, loyalty and dependability. If you look at the sweep of Trump’s life, both personal and professional, his history demonstrates the opposite qualities – he has a pattern of enthusiastically embracing, and then shedding a long line of businesses, friends and women. In that light, even if his newfound relationship with the Vegas billionaire and accompanying affection for Israel – now that he does want Adelson’s money and the Adelson wants to give it to him – how do we know it will last?

Adelson believes the “alternative to Trump being sworn in as the nation’s 45th president is frightening.” For many in Israel, it’s the scenario of Trump being sworn in that is truly frightening and risky – and it’s a gamble that it can’t afford to take.

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