June 24th, 2017

Beyond the Beltway
By Michael Green

When S.G. Adelson Talks….

You may recall an old television ad campaign with the tagline, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” S.G. Adelson’s name might be substituted.

Sheldon Gary Adelson (No one calls him that, but we have to use his middle name here to make the whole point work) donated $25 million to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign last year. He’s also a major donor to pro-Israel causes, and he makes his presence felt in Israeli politics. You pretty much know all that.

So does White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. So, when Spicer tried to use a Hitler analogy to explain Bashar Al-Assad gassing his own people, and it fell flat, he ended up speaking to Andy Abboud, whose title is senior vice-president of government relations and community development for Las Vegas Sands, Adelson’s corporation. Spicer reported that Adelson’s office reached out to him after the White House spokesman said, “You had someone who was despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” Which, of course, Hitler obviously did.

This is interesting on a couple of levels. One has even been discussed in Nevada’s Washington Watch, which is that Nevada is the weakest it has been on Capitol Hill in nearly a quarter of a century, given the absence of Harry Reid, whose seniority and position in the Democratic party gave him considerable weight. It may be that the real power for Nevada in national councils is with Adelson and another major donor, Steve Wynn, who accepted Trump’s entreaty to be finance chair for the Republican National Committee (and don’t forget Trump’s friend and business partner Phil Ruffin, either). When the press secretary hears from a major gaming entrepreneur and quickly responds, said entrepreneur matters.

This suggests not only Adelson’s power but how much gaming has changed in public estimation. Adelson’s Las Vegas hotels stand on the ground once occupied by the Sands, which he imploded to make room for them. No one in the White House would have thought of calling one of the original builders of the Sands to check on matters … unless you’re thinking about the alleged connections between the Kennedy family and the mob, or when Howard Hughes owned the place. But that’s the point: no one would have announced the call or viewed it as a logical thing to do.

The other thing that’s interesting is that it unfolded on the day that Trump said some less heartwarming things about Steve Bannon, who came from Breitbart News to be CEO of the presidential campaign and then chief strategist in the White House. It’s no secret that critics have attacked Breitbart News–and Bannon–and accused them of veiled or not so veiled anti-semitism. If you have read the reporting of Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, among others, she has talked about Bannon’s connections to Robert Mercer, like Adelson a multi-billionaire who has sought to influence the Republican party. According to one account, when Adelson and Mercer spoke and Adelson brought up some Republican power-brokers, Mercer replied, ““I don’t know any of your fancy friends, and I haven’t got any interest in knowing them.”

All of which is to say, no political party or organization–indeed, no organization, period–is monolithic. Today Republican divisions and gaffes are getting the attention. Tomorrow it will be somebody else’s. But it’s certainly interesting to ponder how Adelson has indeed become a major player, and that isn’t likely to change.