By most accounts, Donald Trump was not the first choice for GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson. Last February he and his wife Miriam were allegedly split between voting for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Then Trump destroyed the Adelsons’ top picks as primary voters flocked to his showmanship mixed with liberal doses of populism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism.
Yet, after the Adelsons top choices were eliminated from the field, Adelson ended up contributing a reported $25 million to help get Trump elected, apparently in a single-minded pursuit to elect a president who shares his hawkish visions of the United States and a pro-Israel force in the Middle East.
Adelson is no stranger to the dangers of anti-Semitism.
Connie Bruck’s 2008 profile of him in The New Yorker describes how, growing up in Boston, “[h]e and other Jewish boys in the neighborhood were beaten up by Irish youths” and “In 2006, Sheldon and Miriam donated twenty-five million dollars to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, the largest donation from a private donor in its history.”
But by July’s Republican National Convention, the Adelsons were on Team Trump, helping underwrite the costs of the convention after corporate donors backed away from Trump’s toxic rhetoric. That contribution earned a personal visit from the candidate to their private suite. And the Adelsons, while occasionally voicing concerns about Trump’s lack of self-control, never turned off the money tap.
Trump’s flirtations with racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Semites were hardly a new thing.
In 1991, a former Trump casino executive reported that Trump said:
Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.
In July, Trump tweeted a graphic depicting Hillary Clinton, a six-pointed star that resembled the Star of David, a stack of money, and the text “most corrupt candidate ever.”
Trump chose not to apologize and instead blamed “the dishonest media.”
The Anti-Defamation League repeatedly flagged the worrisome combination of anti-Semitic winks from Trump’s campaign and the growing number of endorsements of his candidacy by openly racist and anti-Semitic figures.
Toward the end of his campaign Trump engaged in ever-more-explicit anti-Semitic dog whistling.
He accused Clinton of meeting “in secret with international banks,” which the ADL compared to charges that “historically have been used against Jews,” and his final campaign ad depicted Clinton in the center of a “global power structure responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped out country of its wealth, and put that money into the pockets of large corporations and political entities.” The ad flashed images of prominent Jewish Americans: Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, investor George Soros, and Goldman Sachs CEO and chairman Lloyd Blankfein.
So, why did the Adelsons write eight-figure checks to support a candidate whose stump speeches, tweets, and commercials were, if not openly anti-Semitic, attracting effusive praise and endorsements from David Duke, the KKK, and the head of the American Nazi Party?
Newt Gingrich, who is currently rumored to be on the short list for an appointment as secretary of state, gave an interview in 2012 in which he tried to answer why Adelson was bankrolling his primary campaign:
Ted Koppel: There has to be a so-what at the end of it. So– if you win what does Adelson get out of it?
Newt Gingrich. He knows I’m very pro Israel. That’s the central value of his life. I mean, he’s very worried that Israel is going to not survive.
Adelson put his money where his mouth is, opening his wallet for a number of hardline, hawkishly pro-Israel and pro-Likud causes. He’s invested millions in think tanks and politicians who opposed nuclear diplomacy with Iran, personally advocated for striking Iran with a nuclear weapon as a negotiating tactic, and denied that Palestinians exist as a distinct Arab people.
Trump, for his part, promised to tear up the nuclear agreement with Iran, employed a proponent of expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank as his top adviser on Israel, and, in a split from longstanding U.S. policy, has already hinted that he will follow through on his pledge to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv.
Jewish Americans as a voting bloc didn’t buy what Trump was selling. Trump’s bigotry, his nods to anti-Semites, and the endorsements from hate group leaders all appear to have helped deliver 70% of the Jewish vote to Clinton. Trump picked up only 25%, five percent less than Mitt Romney got in 2012.
Adelson has long been out of step with Jewish voters, but now he’s pursued a narrow set of interests to help elect a man whose rhetoric parallels historical examples of leaders who embraced intolerance, bigotry and, in the worst cases, outright persecution of minorities, including Jews.
The Las Vegas-based casino mogul was the biggest bankroller of Trump’s campaign and one of the key donors behind Republican efforts to hold their majorities in the House and Senate. Now that Trump won the White House and faces minimal opposition in Congress, it’s time to give credit where credit is due.
Sheldon Adelson ignored the concerns of fellow members of the Republican Jewish Coalition, the Anti-Defamation League, and the vast majority of Jewish voters to help elect a president who reflected his hawkish views on America’s role in the Middle East. In doing so, he had to excuse or simply not care about his candidate’s role in embracing bigotry, especially anti-Semitism, as a tool for bringing white voters to the polls. And now Adelson owns a unique responsibility for enabling Trump’s rise.