Of course, there has always been a larger lodestar for Adelson’s political dealings that has helped to reconcile these contradictions. He is a fervent supporter of the U.S.-Israel alliance, so much so that one could always feel safe in concluding that it was the one issue that trumped all the others. But now, it would seem that Donald Trump trumps even this, because Adelson has officially bestowed his endorsement upon the presumptive Republican nominee.
And this is quite a multi-layered puzzlement, considering that Trump had, during the primaries, rather flamboyantly abjured the support of big political donors, holding Florida Sen. Marco Rubio out for particular derision for the way he was perceived to be courting Adelson’s favor.
Of course, Trump’s calculus has changed now that he’s reached the general election, a challenge he is (in all likelihood, anyway) much too cash-poor to fund himself, despite his braggadocio. But Adelson’s calculus has apparently changed even more, because Trump is famously noncommittal on U.S.-Israel relations.
You may remember this during the primary campaign! As The Hill’s Mark Hensch reported, during an MSNBC town hall hosted by Trump’s buddies Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the reality television star pointedly “refused to pick sides in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.” Per Hensch:
“If I win, I don’t want to be in a position where I’m saying to you [my choice] and the other side now says, ‘We don’t want Trump involved,’” the real estate mogul said of potentially winning the presidency and then brokering a lasting peace deal.
“Let me be sort of a neutral guy,” the billionaire added. “I have friends of mine that are tremendous businesspeople, that are really great negotiators, [and] they say it’s not doable.
As with any of Trump’s stated stances, this position has changed, depending on whatever way the wind was blowing. By the time it became necessary to present his policy speech at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference in mid-March, Trump had begun the work of blurring over his previous “neutral” position. (Nearly simultaneously, Trump was depicting himself as decidedly “non-interventionist“ to The Washington Post’s editorial board.) But on the eve of Adelson’s endorsement, here’s what that wind was doing, according to The Hill’s Ben Kamisar:
Donald Trump met with former Secretary of State James Baker during his Thursday swing through Washington as the presumptive GOP presidential nominee seeks to unite the Republican Party behind him.
The pair met during Trump’s visit to Jones Day, the Washington law firm where many members of his legal team practice, NBC News reported.
The meeting came hours after Baker criticized some of Trump’s key foreign policy proposals during a Thursday Senate hearing, including his call to roll back American involvement in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
That’s right, the little-heralded stop on Trump’s Beltway-establishment rapprochement tour was to visit James Baker, and try to win him over. And while Baker is many things, “pro-Israel” is not one of them — and he’s lately not been on Adelson’s side. As The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Green reported in March of 2015:
Don’t expect James A. Baker ... to be tapped for another stint at Foggy Bottom. On Monday night, at J Street’s fifth annual conference, Baker lit into Benjamin Netanyahu and his newly elected, Likud-led government. Never one to mince words, Baker told the crowd, “Frankly, I have been disappointed with the lack of progress regarding a lasting peace — and I have been for some time … in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s recent election victory, the chance of a two-state solution seems even slimmer, given his reversal on the issue.”
Tart as that message might have been, the 84-year-old Baker had gone there before. Baker, who served as George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state, as Ronald Reagan’s treasury secretary, and as White House chief of staff to both Presidents, had laid down a similar line in May 1989 to an earlier Likud prime minister. In a speech to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Baker told the folks in the room and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir to “lay aside once and for all the unrealistic vision of a greater Israel … reach out to Palestinians as neighbors who deserve political rights.”
Perhaps this all escaped Adelson’s attention? He has, after all, been busy dismantling the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s editorial independence. The thing is, these subtle, tribal distinctions among competing factions of the Israel-Palestine conflict used to matter a great deal to Adelson. Prior to Trump doing his Ramsey Snow-job on Chris Christie, the only time in recorded memory that the New Jersey governor had been made to grovel came in March 2010, when Christie was forced to apologize to Adelson for referring to Palestine as “occupied territories” — a big ol’ no-no to Adelson.
Christie might lament that Adelson is willing to cut the neutrality-promoting, James Baker-courting Trump considerably more slack — especially after being forced to endure Trump’s primary season-long grandstanding about how he couldn’t be bought by megadonors, and that those who sought their favor, like Christie, we “perfect little puppets.”
But the Adelson-Trump alliance is stranger still when you consider that there actually is one bona-fide Israel-hawk in the race, named “Hillary Clinton.” Clinton, in a letter to her own megadonor pal Haim Saban (the Democrats’ version of Adelson — apparently the two men do not compare notes), vowed to counter the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction” movement that has aggressively attempted to counter Israel’s policies in Palestinian territories. Per Politico’s Annie Karni:
Hillary Clinton has penned a letter to mega-donor Haim Saban and Jewish organization leaders expressing her strong and unequivocal support for Israel in the face of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement, known as “BDS.”
“I know you agree that we need to make countering BDS a priority,” she writes, asking for aid working “across party lines” to “fight back against further attempts to isolate and delegitimize Israel.”
Clinton’s own presentation to the AIPAC policy conference left little mystery about how she felt about “neutrality,” and she wasn’t shy about adopting a criticism of Trump that had previously been argued in the Republican debates by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Rubio:
Yes, we need steady hands, not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who knows what on Wednesday, because everything’s negotiable. Well, my friends, Israel’s security is non-negotiable.
I have sat in Israeli hospital rooms holding the hands of men and women whose bodies and lives were torn apart by terrorist bombs. I’ve listened to doctors describe the shrapnel left in a leg, an arm or even a head.
That’s why I feel so strongly that America can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security or survival. We can’t be neutral when rockets rain down on residential neighborhoods, when civilians are stabbed in the street, when suicide bombers target the innocent. Some things aren’t negotiable.
“And anyone who doesn’t understand that has no business being our president,” said Clinton. Apparently, Adelson disagrees.
In Adelson’s endorsement, glancing mention is made of the Iran nuclear deal. To be fair, this is something Clinton would probably seek to uphold. That might be reason enough to sway Adelson. Though, once again, Trump is the candidate on all sides of the issue, vowing to “strictly enforce“ it one day, declaring he’d wholly “dismantle“ it the next.
Outside of that, support for a more hawkish Israel policy is not specifically mentioned — save for one moment in which Adelson makes it clear that he now privileges Trump’s experiences as a businessman over all other considerations (which is in itself very strange).
Here, Adelson definitely seems to subordinate his passion for Israel to simply honor Trump’s success at joining the elites:
Despite being the grandson of a Welsh coal miner and the son of a Boston cab driver, I’ve had the remarkable experience of being part of almost 50 different businesses in my more than 70-year business career. So, tell me I’m not a conservative enough Republican or I’m too hawkish on Israel or whatever else you may think, but I think I’ve earned the right to talk about success and leadership.
Well, one thing’s for sure: Having endorsed Trump, I think it’s fair to say it’s considerably more difficult to paint Adelson as “too hawkish on Israel.” If anything, one wonders what all of Adelson’s prior carping on the matter meant, if anything.
Adelson’s long been a study in self-contradictions — a professed supporter of liberal causes who exclusively funds their opponents. Perhaps even his avowed support for Israel means just as little to him — at least compared with the simple tribal bonds of the meritocracy. Maybe Adelson is just a bog-standard party hack who prefers power to policy.
Or maybe Trump simply promised to move the Oakland Raiders to Vegas! Who knows? The only thing that’s certain is that these addled billionaire weirdos wield considerably more political power than you do.
Author: Jason Linkins