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A.B. Stoddard: Adelson all in for 2016

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It’s great news for Jeb Bush, the entire Republican Party and even embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, but it stinks for Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, and Hillary Clinton as well. Casino mogul and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, a decisive factor in the last Republican presidential primary, has given up on “crazy.” After backing former Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 2012 nominating battle, Adelson is going mainstream, and plans to back a pragmatic, less ideological candidate with broad appeal who can win a general election.

Prospects seeking the support of Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who are currently hosting 2016 presidential hopefuls at the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition at the Venetian in Las Vegas, must be conservative and strong on Israel, but purists need not apply. Attendees at this week’s event include Christie and Bush, the former Florida governor, along with Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio — just a few of the players campaigning in what is now known as the “Sheldon primary.”

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One friend of Adelson’s told The Washington Post that he won’t be backing “a crazy extremist,” and indicated Adelson is eyeing Bush and Christie, though he has concerns about Christie’s scandal baggage, stemming from the closing of traffic on the George Washington Bridge in September. Another GOP donor said Adelson’s pick will not only have to have a strong fundraising operation and a hefty resume, but will have to be “emotionally tethered to bringing in middle-class Latinos, Asian Pacifics, Jews and blacks like never before.”

The new Adelson standard makes things tough for Cruz (R-Texas), currently the most famous lightning rod in the GOP, and for Paul (R-Ky.), whose evolving hawkishness on Israel still includes cutting U.S. aid. It could also potentially prod Republicans in Congress toward passing some form of immigration reform, should an Adelson-backed front-runner emerge in early 2015 and offer support. Should the Republican establishment succeed in fending off Tea Party challenges to Republican incumbents in this midterm election cycle, Adelson’s role in shaping the GOP nominating contest will all but assure insurgent candidates cannot do too much damage to the prospects of an establishment Republican emerging from the primary campaign.

Adelson initially supported Gingrich in the 2012 GOP primary but also donated to Mitt Romney once he became the nominee. All told, he spent $92 million, but his early $15 million gift to a pro-Gingrich super-PAC lengthened the primary battle and hobbled Romney in the general election campaign. Republicans planning for campaigns in 2016 are concerned at how the process played out, even before Adelson was involved. Romney spent considerable resources fighting other early challenges from weaker candidates like Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain and Texas Gov. Rick Perry before contending with a strong challenge from Gingrich and then an even stronger threat from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Months of bleeding money and sparring with other candidates were ultimately costly to Romney and helpful to Obama.

Adelson, worth nearly $40 billion, is reportedly unfazed by his enormous expenditure in 2012 on losing candidates and is prepared to dump even larger amounts on his next candidate of choice. And that should worry Clinton. Not only can Adelson shut down the circus primary earlier on by supporting the more electable candidate, but that nominee’s general election campaign can start earlier and be far better funded until the end with Adelson’s help. Clinton will have her own super-PACs funding her campaign, should she run. But we all know she would prefer Adelson get behind someone real crazy. 

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.