How Adelson funding Gingrich hurt Santorum, helped Romney and saved Obama

Writing in the Forward, Samuel Freedman makes the most provocative post-election argument that I’ve read so far. The thesis is more or less what I wrote in this post’s headline.

Freedman argues that casino kingpin Sheldon Adelson’s lavish funding of Newt Gingrich’s doomed Republican primary campaign split the conservative anti-Romney vote and helped to "deny the nomination to the man who might well have defeated Obama: former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum."

Freedman writes:

[[READMORE]]

Everything that Mitt Romey so flagrantly lacked, everything that he looked transparently artificial in trying to express, was what Santorum embodied naturally, in his family history, in his bones. He was a conservative Catholic whose consistent record against abortion and gay marriage genuinely energized the GOP’s evangelical Christian base. He was the product of immigrant parents, grew up in the steel and coal region of western Pennsylvania, and had built an organic constituency in the industrial heartland.

In his successful races for Senate in 1994 and 2000, Santorum polled strongly among middle-class voters and in union households; he made actual efforts to compete for votes among African-Americans. When Santorum was routed by Bob Casey in 2006, it was an anomalous race, taking place amid a national backlash against George W. Bush for the ongoing Iraq and Afghanistan wars and featuring an opponent who was an anti-abortion Catholic Democrat.

In other words, Santorum in 2012 was exactly the kind of candidate who could have boosted evangelical turnout in states like Florida and Virginia that Romney narrowly lost. Santorum was exactly the kind of instinctual blue-collar politician with Catholic ethnic roots who, despite opposing the auto-industry bailout, could have spoken with genuine rather than feigned empathy to the Reagan Democrats and swing independents in Ohio, the state that more than any other decided the election.

Thus Freedman concludes that Adelson’s electoral interventions were ultimately "self-defeating."

Now, it’s true that Santorum’s seeming sincerity and ability to speak to working-class voters are strengths in areas where Romney was found by many to be lacking. (And on an unrelated side note, Santorum also was just about the only GOP primary hopeful who didn’t join in the competition to knock U.S. foreign aid.)

But I’m not wholly persuaded that Santorum would have been a viable nominee. His fervency and ultra-conservative stances on social issues would have been a serious turnoff not only to liberals but also to middle-of-the-road voters.

They seem to be a turnoff to Freedman, too. "I did not and do not support Rick Santorum," Freedman notes. "I abhor many of his positions." I suspect the same would be true of many swing voters and moderate Republicans.

Indeed, Santorum’s views turned off Sheldon Adelson, a self-described liberal on social issues like abortion. "I don’t want him to run my country,” Adelson said.

During the primaries, however, Santorum did stake out a pretty aggressive position in support of Israel’s rights in the West Bank: "All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis, they’re not Palestinians," Santorum said. "There is no ‘Palestinian.’ This is Israeli land."

So perhaps Santorum and the ultra-hawkish Adelson could have found some common ground there.

Here’s a video of Adelson offering some very candid thoughts about Santorum, Gingrich and Romney:

NEXT STORY