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Top GOP donor Sheldon Adelson sounds surprisingly okay with Donald Trump winning

Sheldon Adelson.
(Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Sheldon Adelson is a billionaire casino magnate and one of the most important donors in the Republican Party. He is heavily quoted by GOP politicians, seen as something of a kingmaker. In 2012 he singlehandedly funded Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign, ultimately spending up to $150 million on various efforts to defeat Barack Obama. He would be potentially crucial to any organized elite campaign to stop Donald Trump.

Just one problem: It's starting to look like Adelson is getting pretty okay with nominating Trump.

Adelson's Trump flirtations

Trump hat (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

His clearest comments came at a Las Vegas gala in February, which only became widely reported this week.

"Trump is a businessman. I am a businessman. He employs a lot of people. I employed 50,000 people," Adelson said. "Why not?"

It's somewhat surprising to hear Adelson so blasé on Trump. Adelson's top priority, by far, is Israel: He is hard-line right-wing on the Israel-Palestine conflict and on Iran. He tends to favor candidates who take the hardest-line positions possible on those issues and who are most pro-Israel.

That's not Trump, who has said he would take a "neutral" stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and suggested that if negotiations fail it might well be Israel's fault. He has promised to enforce, rather than tear up, the Iran nuclear deal. He gave a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition that was borderline anti-Semitic.

But actions speak louder than words, and in that vein there's an even more important indicator of Adelson warming up to Trump: coverage of the candidate in Israel Hayom, a right-wing Israeli tabloid newspaper that Adelson owns.

"Each new meeting with Trump is just as fascinating as the previous one," Israel Hayom's Boaz Bismuth wrote in a March 18 profile. "He has been called a racist and a provocateur [but] the answer of Trump and his supporters came at the ballot boxes."

Previous pro-Trump headlines in the paper, the Intercept's Robert Mackey notes, include, "Trump not afraid to say 'Islamic Terrorism.'" Another headline said of Trump's recent primary victories, "Nearly there."

"Sheldon Adelson's paper is aggressively campaigning for Trump," Haaretz correspondent Barak Ravid tweeted, "in an attempt to sway [the] Israeli public in his favor."

Given that Israel Hayom's agenda is widely suspected to be set by its owner, this coverage seems to suggest that Adelson is ready to welcome a Trump presidency.

Why Adelson matters

Sheldon Adelson Speaks At Global Gaming Expo In Las Vegas (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

We can, at this point, only speculate about why this might be. It doesn't track with Adelson's past behavior, given Trump's heterodoxies on Israel policy.

Whatever his reasons, Adelson has the resources, if he wanted, to heavily fund one of the candidates running against Trump or a general anti-Trump campaign. Conversely, he also has enough money to significantly boost Trump's war chest. It would be tough for even someone as rich as Trump to fully self-fund a successful bid for the presidency.

So Adelson's decision on Trump matters, for both the primary and the general.

Even beyond the money, Adelson's allegiance points to a bigger problem for the Republican Party. Prominent conservatives, particularly in the punditry and think tank world, have expressed shock and horror at the prospect of a Trump nomination. They've even floated the possibility of a third-party run if he wins the nomination.

But it's not obvious that less visible, but no less vital, GOP elites — such as big donors — share their revulsion. Adelson's Trump flirtation suggests that he, at least, might not. That split would be a problem, to put it mildly, for any campaign to deny Trump the Republican nomination.