Billionaire Sheldon Adelson Assesses the 2016 Field

The GOP donor rattles off his list of contenders and says he’ll be more involved in Senate primaries to promote “electable” candidates.

FILE - In this April 12, 2012 file photo, Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson speaks at a news conference for the Sands Cotai Central in Macau. Adelson is firing back at his former Macau casino executive's claim that Adelson approved prostitution at company properties in the Chinese gambling enclave.   
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Sept. 12, 2013, 4:47 a.m.

Shel­don Ad­el­son, the bil­lion­aire Re­pub­lic­an whose su­per PAC spend­ing upen­ded the 2012 GOP pres­id­en­tial primary, has a list of early con­tenders in 2016—and Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky isn’t on it.

Al­though he said “it’s far too early” to spec­u­late about the next pres­id­en­tial field, Ad­el­son rattled off the names of Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla.; Rep. Paul Ry­an, R-Wis., the 2012 vice pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee; New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie; and Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walk­er as pre­sumed can­did­ates.

“I didn’t even know Ted Cruz was po­ten­tially a can­did­ate un­til some­body poin­ted it out to me the oth­er day,” Ad­el­son said of the fresh­man sen­at­or from Texas.

Ad­el­son’s early 2016 as­sess­ment came in an ex­tens­ive in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al earli­er this week in which he also said he is con­sid­er­ing an ex­pan­ded in­volve­ment in Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an primar­ies after watch­ing flawed GOP nom­in­ees frit­ter away win­nable seats in the last two cycles.

“We are go­ing to be in­volved in more primary races than we were be­fore,” he said.

Ad­el­son’s words carry the weight of his wal­let. The casino mag­nate—he is the chair­man and CEO of the Las Ve­gas Sands Corp.—is one of the biggest donors in Re­pub­lic­an polit­ics, hav­ing spent with his wife nearly $100 mil­lion on the 2012 elec­tions. For­bes es­tim­ates Ad­el­son is the 15th richest per­son in the world, worth $26.5 bil­lion.

It’s not en­tirely sur­pris­ing that Ad­el­son would leave Paul’s name off his early 2016 list. Paul is a lead­ing liber­tari­an voice in the GOP who ar­gues for the wean­ing away of for­eign aid, in­clud­ing even­tu­ally to Is­rael, and has been at the fore­front of op­pos­ing in­ter­ven­tion in Syr­ia.

Ad­el­son is a pro-Is­rael hawk who was named an hon­or­ary cit­izen of Jer­u­s­alem earli­er this year and is back­ing Pres­id­ent Obama’s pro­posed strikes against the re­gime of Bashar al-As­sad for its sus­pec­ted use of chem­ic­al weapons. Still, Ad­el­son said the Syr­ia situ­ation is not a lit­mus test for 2016. “I don’t think it makes a hill of beans dif­fer­ence,” he said. “It’s not a make-or-break is­sue for me. Peri­od.” All the mem­bers of Con­gress seen as most likely 2016 as­pir­ants—Paul, Cruz, Ru­bio and Ry­an—have come out in op­pos­i­tion to Obama strik­ing Syr­ia.

Ad­el­son had only kind words for most of the po­ten­tial con­tenders. “Every­body’s im­pressed me,” he said. “Ru­bio is a very im­press­ive guy. I’ve talked to him privately many times, and he’s ex­tremely know­ledge­able. I’ve dis­cussed a lot of eso­ter­ic is­sues with him and he’s right up there.”

“The same thing, I had lunch with Chris Christie one day, he and his wife Mary Pat, and he’s a very im­press­ive guy,” Ad­el­son con­tin­ued. “The same thing with Ry­an—every­body’s im­press­ive.”

Top Re­pub­lic­ans make ef­forts to stay in Ad­el­son’s good graces—and for good reas­on. Last year, he handed out $30 mil­lion to a su­per PAC back­ing Mitt Rom­ney; $23 mil­lion to Amer­ic­an Cross­roads, the Karl Rove-af­fil­i­ated su­per PAC; and $5 mil­lion apiece to the su­per PACs formed by al­lies of Speak­er John Boehner and House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics.

All that money is why, only four days after Rom­ney tapped Ry­an as his vice pres­id­en­tial pick last year, Ry­an flew out to Las Ve­gas for a gath­er­ing hos­ted by Ad­el­son at the Vene­tian hotel.

This Au­gust, Ad­el­son hos­ted a fun­draiser for Christie at the Palazzo. The event came two years after Christie, whose state is home to At­lantic City, the No. 2 gambling mecca in the coun­try, dis­paraged people who go to Las Ve­gas in the sum­mer. “You’d have to be stu­pid to do that,” he said then. An Ad­el­son-hos­ted event was enough to change his mind.

Bey­ond his dona­tions, Ad­el­son has had some un­wel­come re­cent in­ter­ac­tions with the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. His com­pany agreed to pay $47 mil­lion last month to settle a money-laun­der­ing probe. And a second fed­er­al in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to the pos­sible brib­ing of for­eign of­fi­cials with busi­ness in China is on­go­ing.

With the 2016 elec­tion still more than three years away, Ad­el­son said he’s look­ing for lead­er­ship qual­it­ies in po­ten­tial con­tenders. “When some­body is a be­liev­er in their own con­vic­tions, that’s the kind of guy that I’m for,” he said, cit­ing Pres­id­ent Re­agan’s famed stan­doff with air-traffic con­trol­lers. “When Re­agan dumped the flight con­trol­lers, there was no ques­tion he wasn’t go­ing to take them back.”

“So it isn’t just, ‘I can de­bate good, I’m very ar­tic­u­late, I can sell my point of view,’ ” Ad­el­son said. He’s look­ing for a lead­er who won’t “swing with the wind of the polls.”

In Sen­ate races, the Nevada Re­pub­lic­an said he wants to push for more-elect­able nom­in­ees, a big point of con­ten­tion between the party es­tab­lish­ment and tea-party act­iv­ists.

“Look what happened here in Nevada. [In 2010,] Shar­ron Angle came in in the primary race against Sue Lowden who was a shoo-in for U.S. sen­at­or,” he said. “We were not in­volved in that race in the man­ner that we should have. But listen, she was un­elect­able. [Todd] Akin in “¦Mis­souri was un­elect­able. [Richard] Mour­dock was un­elect­able in In­di­ana.”

Angle, Akin, and Mour­dock were all Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate nom­in­ees who bested GOP es­tab­lish­ment can­did­ates in the primary, only to lose to a Demo­crat in the gen­er­al elec­tion.

“I think we’ve got to take, in our polit­ic­al cal­cu­la­tions—we’ve got to take a closer look at who is more elect­able, rather than listen to the nor­mal pitches of, ‘Geez I’m just 3 points away; if only I had a bil­lion dol­lars I could close that gap,’” Ad­el­son said.

Ad­el­son wouldn’t de­tail his plans for the 2014 primar­ies. “I tell you the truth, I don’t know. It’s just much too early,” he said, adding he hadn’t “giv­en it any thought,” though clearly he had.

Ad­el­son, who turned 80 earli­er this year, did have one brief Rick Perry “oops” mo­ment in the 30-minute in­ter­view. In ex­plain­ing his sup­port for Obama in en­for­cing a “red line” in Syr­ia, Ad­el­son said, “There are three things in Chinese lore that can’t be re­trac­ted. One is the spoken word, two is the spent ar­row, and three—I’m at the age that I’ve for­got,” he said.

Not that he soun­ded like a man in­tend­ing to slow down. “Eighty is the new 60,” he said, “so I cel­eb­rated my 60th when I was 60 and I cel­eb­rated my 60th again when I’m 80.”

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