Thursday, February 16, 2012

What's really behind Sheldon Adelson's backing of Newt Gingrich? (Besides $11 million)

If someone spends $11 million supporting a cause, it would seem safe to assume they really support that cause.

True enough. But as is often the case in American politics, there's much more to the story than what appears at superficial glance.

As has been amply chronicled, Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and wife Miriam have donated said $11 million to the super PAC supporting the Republican presidential candidacy of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Forbes puts Adelson's assets at about $21 billion, give or take a few hundred million dollars. (How cool is it to type a phrase like that?)

So, $11 million is mere lunch money for the casino owner. However, it's safe to say that $11 million through December and January was the lifeline that's literally kept Gingrich's underfunded, unorganized and hopeless nomination ambitions alive.

But now Gingrich's coffers are running so low again that he's broken off the campaign trail this week to visit California, just like President Obama. There's only one reason prominent pols visit California in election years. It isn't for Disneyland's Space Mountain. And it's sure not to campaign; Democrats don't need to and Republicans would waste their time.

Gingrich and Obama are in California to raise money, gobs of it. The Golden state is the unofficial ATM for national politicians.

But now comes word from the Wall Street Journal that next door in Nevada, Adelson is pondering another $10 mil or so in donations to Gingrich's PAC, even as the former speaker fades badly in the polls.

Now, you don't come to possess $21 billion in Nevada by making a lot of bad bets. You come to possess $21 billion in Nevada by letting other people make a lot of bad bets. So, what else is going on here, besides Adelson's affection for Newt?

After last week's caucuses in Maine, Colorado and Minnesota and the meaningless Missouri primary (the first won by Mitt Romney, the other three captured by Rick Santorum), there's not a lot of February action in the Republican race before the important Arizona and Michigan primaries on Feb. 28. And then 10 states on Super Tuesday, March 6.

So, what does $11 million, plus perhaps $10 million more, accomplish?

1) It keeps a competitive Newt in the race.

2) More impportantly, it keeps the number of big-name contenders at three (yes, four counting Ron Paul, who's doing his own fundraising money bombs).

Theoretically, it's possible that Adelson is a philosophical disciple of Sarah Palin, who says she believes the longer a competitive GOP race goes on, the stronger will be the eventual nominee, especially if he's a bona fide conservative. After all, Obama and Hillary "Barack Obama, you should be ashamed!" Clinton ferociously went at each other into June in 2008 and a Dem still won in November.

Theoretically, that could be what Adelson is thinking.

However, he could also be thinking that by financially propping up Gingrich with what is to Adelson minor money to match Santorum's donor bonanza last week, he's keeping it essentially a three-man race. And who's the real beneficiary of that?

Neither Santorum nor Gingrich are really fiscal conservatives. They've never been executives, which five of the last six presidents were before moving into the White House. Nor after long congressional and consulting careers are they real D.C. outsiders, free of financial connections to that tainted city of monuments.

But somehow both Gingrich and Santorum are attracting the party's very conservative vote. Put another way, Gingrich and Santorum are splitting the same crowd. And this benefits Romney, who has his own money and national operation carefully-constructed over years.

So, in this case, the adage about following the money would steer you in the wrong direction. The potential $21 million is really a bank shot for Adelson, going to help Gingrich prevent Santorum from beating Romney.

We'll see if it works. But pretty clever.

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