Every Republican wants the Sheldon Seal of Approval. And they’re more than happy to come to Las Vegas to get it.
This is no second-tier endorsement. Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave more than $100 million to Republican candidates and causes during the 2012 election cycle. The 80-year-old billionaire has made it clear he’s willing to give even more money to GOP campaigns in 2016 — provided the party nominates a presidential candidate Mr. Adelson believes can win. In the super PAC era, there is no limit to what Mr. Adelson can contribute to support a particular campaign (albeit indirectly).
Last week’s meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition was a perfect opportunity for big-name Republicans to get Mr. Adelson’s attention. The conference was held at The Venetian, Mr. Adelson’s hotel, and no issue is more important to the gaming and convention giant than Israel’s security.
One by one, potential presidential candidates spoke to attendees Saturday.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, trying to put his “Bridgegate” scandal in the rearview mirror, said, “We cannot have a world where our friends are unsure if we are with them and our enemies are unsure if we’re against them.” As reported by the Review-Journal’s Laura Myers, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich also tried to show some foreign policy chops.
And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was in town last week, too, to visit one of Las Vegas’ best public high schools, the Advanced Technologies Academy, and speak at a VIP dinner inside Mr. Adelson’s private airport hangar.
It will be interesting to see whether Mr. Adelson hand picks a presidential favorite early in the nominating process and starts writing eight-figure checks — the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries are less than 22 months away — or whether he learned from his mistake in 2012, when he got behind lackluster Newt Gingrich too soon and spent money trashing eventual nominee Mitt Romney before changing horses.
Indeed, Mr. Adelson doesn’t have a lot to show for the fortune he spent on political campaigns two years ago. Most of the candidates he supported wound up losing. That should remind Mr. Adelson and all the Republican hopefuls who want his cash that money alone, whether it comes from super donors or student supporters, guarantees nothing in elections. That’s because massive ad buys — even those that achieve saturation in key battlegrounds — are no substitute for a superior party structure, good messaging and a ground game that gets voters to the polls. In this regard, Democrats have Republicans beat.
As Mr. Adelson grills GOP politicians on Middle East strategy and Internet gaming, and begins to consider how much money he’ll spend, he and the candidates he might support should consider how to rebuild party organizations, register new voters and recruit the volunteer base necessary to deliver the votes that can win an election. If they’re more interested in TV and radio attacks, Mr. Adelson once again might realize precious little return on a sizable investment.