Last night I saw a link on Twitter to the news that Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul had given $5 million to a Gingrich-backing SuperPAC to run a brutal series of ads against Mitt Romney in South Carolina. (The ad campaign will be based on snippets from a half-hour swift-boat style ‘documentary’ about Mitt’s time at Bain Capital.) I knew this was big if for no other reason than the fact that $5 million thrown at a relatively small state like South Carolina over little more than a week is enough to totally change the calculus of a race. After all, the whole story of Iowa is that Romney’s backers had enough money to crush Gingrich with a massive bombardment of negative ads. Gingrich simply had no money to respond.
But there’s much more afoot here.
The first part of the equation is that Sheldon Adelson is not just some rich guy. He’s one of the richest men in the country. (The best general backgrounder I’ve seen so far on this news is this piece in the Times. Here’s a lengthy piece from a few year’s ago in The New Yorker on Adelson himself.) For all practical purposes, his funds are unlimited. Giving another $5 million or $10 million would be just as easy as the first. And he’s in the habit of giving lots of money — political money, issue money, lots of money to Jewish causes and causes tied to the Israeli right. So check off the boxes for both the ability and the propensity to give and keep giving if he and Gingrich decide they want to keep this going.
A longtime reader wrote in a short while ago and asked, Why is Adelson trying to stop Romney at this late date? And it’s a good question. By all accounts, the Gingrich/Adelson relationship is a close one, both ideological and personal. Adelson is a major player of vast scale in transnational Jewish and hard-right pro-settler politics in Israel. A few years ago he tried unsuccessfully to buy the Israeli daily Maariv. When he failed he established the free daily Israel HaYom which is now the biggest circulation daily in the country. Gingrich and Adelson seem utterly of one mind on the issue of hard-right Israeli politics, hyper-Islamophobia and the rest of it. Much of Gingrich’s refashioning as a hardline neoconservative in recent years seems to have been funded on Adelson’s dime and tied into Adelson’s world.
To be crystal clear on this point, I am not saying that Gingrich’s support for these causes has in any way been bought. Far from it. I think this is a world that he’s embraced. And it’s simply a world in which Adelson is a massive sun because of his money and influence. Money and friendship and ideology all blend together like soup in these cases. And the relationship seems to involve all of them in some indistinguishable way.
In any case, why would Adelson be trying to take Romney out now? At this point, I think the Romney forces — and the Republican establishment generally — are probably right to say that damaging Romney means damaging Republican presidential prospects in the Fall. I can’t see any other way to organize the available information. Who else is going to be the nominee? Newt? Santorum? They’re going to stand better shots against Obama? Hardly. And having Republican buy-in to the charge that Romney was a predatory corporate raider and lay-off king helps Obama.
The only real answer I can see is that this is personal. As we’ve already noted, Gingrich seems propelled now by a sort of incandescent rage against Romney, who he sees as not only crushing his supposed shot at the presidency but also having the effrontery to claim that he, Romney (truly a phony conservative if there ever was one) is the real conservative and not Newt. For someone like Newt, not only with all his vaunted pretension and self-regard but no little claim to being a major figure in the history of modern American conservatism, how galling must that be?
It’s always been part of who Newt is (anybody like him) that it’s impossible to separate the personal from the historical. Newt isn’t an ordinary politician. He’s an historic figure. If he’s pissed or hurt, it’s not a matter of just being mad or angry. The target of his anger must be something or someone so bad and awful that defeating that person is something of an importance that wholly transcends Newt’s personal interests. This is how the guy thinks. If he’s engaged, it must be incredibly important. Remember, this is the guy who once said: “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.”
So it’s personal for Gingrich (which means it’s also world-historical). And since it’s personal for him it’s personal for Adelson too.
I’m not sure where this ends up. But the Gingrich/Adelson friendship just became a much more critical part of the 2012 calculus. And it has the potential to seriously complicate Mitt Romney’s road to the White House.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.