If you were in Vegas last weekend, you may have seen some hard-luck dudes hoping to hit the financial jackpot — and that was just the Republican governors hanging around Sheldon Adelson, wokka wokka. This is apparently what the world looks like now: presidential hopefuls whittling down their target audiences to the guys with the fattest wallets.
In case you missed the story, this weekend was the spring leadership meeting for the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, a gathering that attracted a number of those interested in seeking the Republican nomination in 2016. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came, as did Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Ohio's John Kasich. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also showed up, although he didn't speak. Ostensibly, the men were there to simply give a speech to a politically active group. In reality, they were there to build a relationship with Adelson, the gambling magnate whose $20 million in support to Newt Gingrich in 2012 made Gingrich viable.
That's the equation. If you have money, you have a chance. Show that you have money, and you show that you have a chance. And if you have a chance, people will give you more money. Walker and Kasich need someone to step up and vouch for them, to make them contenders. Christie unexpectedly needs to do something similar, to show that, even with the George Washington Bridge scandal casting its shadow, someone's willing to invest. Politicians never like to have to campaign far and wide — it's why the electoral college still exists and why gerrymandering is rampant. So if you can make a statement by currying the favor of one guy, that's a good expenditure of campaign resources.
But it leads to scenes like this, reported by Politico's Ken Vogel: "As Adelson whizzed around his Venetian kingdom on a motorized scooter during the retreat, he was often trailed by GOP operatives, politicians and fellow donors eager to assess his state of mind, advise him on what he should do or just lavish him with praise and gratitude." It is a wonderful feature of American life that we trail the rich and famous like puppies in search of a mother, but we do usually hope for more from our elected officials. (A hope that is often disappointed.) Granted, the report doesn't say Chris Christie was chasing Adelson's Rascal, but Kasich did the next best thing.
“Hey, listen, Sheldon, thanks for inviting me,” Kasich told Adelson during a Saturday luncheon speech.
“Sheldon and I were kind of talking about his background. I come from a little town outside of Pittsburgh called McKees Rocks — it was very blue collar,” Kasich said, in one of several Adelson-related non sequiturs.
Hey, Sheldon! Over here, Sheldon!
It is not like the Republican Jewish Coalition is terribly influential. In 2008, its efforts were mostly comprised of fear-mongering ads criticized by more liberal Jewish groups. In 2012, it worked to erode Jewish support for Obama by running anti-Obama ads. If there were speakers at the 2010 RJC spring leadership meeting, Google doesn't readily identify them. The organization's website doesn't go back that far.
A strategist for Rick Santorum's 2012 race told Vogel that the whole thing was distasteful. "It sets a bad precedent for a billionaire to say ‘come hither’ this early on, and some people actually do," John Brabender said. Especially since it forces those candidates campaigning for that one vote to tailor a pitch that might make future campaigning trickier. Adelson and the RJC have very strict attitudes toward American foreign policy as it relates to Israel. The governors that spoke presented as strong a case as they could to show that they support those attitudes. Christie's argument in brief: Obama has been weak, making America's enemies bolder. "In New Jersey," he said, "no one has to wonder whether I’m for them or against them. There is never really a cloud of indecision around what I say and what I do." That rhetoric may have gotten him in trouble in Bridgegate, but maybe it can help with Adelson.
Unfortunately, though, Christie also referred to the "occupied territories," as he was talking about a trip that he'd taken to Israel. That description of Gaza and the West Bank isn't appreciated by Adelson and the RJC, leading Christie to apologize. It's important not to alienate important constituencies, after all, even if the size of the constituency is one.