Republican political operative Matthew Dowd knows a little something about campaigns. He was, after all, the chief strategist for the Bush/Cheney team in 2004.
It was interesting, then, to see Dowd complain yesterday about so many Republican presidential hopefuls pandering to billionaire Sheldon Adelson over the weekend. "I just think it's ridiculous," Dowd said
, "that these candidates for president are trumping out to Las Vegas to go kiss the ring of a billionaire casino owner and they think that's somehow going help them get elected president."
But for ambitious Republicans like Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and others, whether or not the pandering is unseemly is irrelevant
. They're going to do it anyway.
Amid a crisis in Ukraine, some of the top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 addressed a meeting [in Las Vegas] of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a collection of elite campaign donors and party activists, offering a unified message of alarm and dismay over the White House's approach to national security and foreign policy. The event has long lured national Republican candidates eager to burnish their reputations with the interventionist wing of their party. But it now doubles as something else: a de facto audition for the electoral affections of the casino magnate and top Republican donor Sheldon G. Adelson, a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition's board and the owner of the Venetian hotel, where the event was held.
Some of the GOP guests abandoned subtlety altogether. Ohio Gov. John Kasich "delivered a luncheon speech on Saturday to a crowd of several hundred, he repeatedly referred to 'Sheldon,' as if the billionaire were the only other person in the room."
But it was Chris Christie's word-choice that arguably resonated the loudest.
The New Jersey Republican referenced an anecdote in his remarks, noting a 2012 trip he and his family took to Israel. "I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day," the governor said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologized to Sheldon Adelson in a meeting Saturday for stepping on a fault line in Middle East politics during a speech he gave earlier in the day, according to a source familiar with the conversation. [...] While [Christie's anecdote] was intended to forge common cause with Adelson and the several hundred donors to the Republican Jewish Coalition to which Christie was speaking, his use of the term "occupied territories" set off murmurs in the crowd. The term refers to lands in which Palestinians live where Israel maintains a military presence, including the West Bank.
Christie reportedly met with Adelson privately "not long after
" the speech and "clarified in the strongest terms possible that his remarks ... were not meant to be a statement of policy."
It's rather sad, in a way. The governor used to work so hard to cultivate his tough-guy "brand" -- Chris Christie says what he means, gives it to you straight, and has no use for mamby-pamby personalities -- whch is quickly discarded when a billionaire doesn't like a two-word phrase regarding Israel, at which point the governor is eager to grovel.
As for why these Republicans would be so eager to "kiss the ring of a billionaire casino owner," keep recent history in mind. As Ari Melber explained
on Friday night's show, Adelson is one of the richest people in the world with $38 billion, and he demonstrated in 2012, the mogul doesn't mind investing eight-figure sums in Republican presidential campaigns.
And with Adelson already looking ahead, eager to choose a new favorite for 2016, presidential hopefuls are shamelessly working to endear themselves to the Republican billionaire.
Indeed, note that the group of suitors extends beyond those who showed up in Las Vegas over the weekend. Govs. Rick Perry (R-Texas), Bobby Jindal (R-La.), and Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) weren't invited to Sheldon's shindig, but they also suddenly discovered
that they're against Internet gambling.
Coincidentally, it's one of Sheldon Adelson's top domestic priorities.