WASHINGTON (JTA) — Citing his fears about Iran and praising Donald Trump’s experience as a CEO, Jewish casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson endorsed the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
“You may not like Trump’s style or what he says on Twitter, but this country needs strong executive leadership more today than at almost any point in its history,” said Adelson’s op-ed which appeared on the Washington Post’s website early Friday. “The world is less secure than ever, and our allies have lost confidence in our ability to lead.”
Adelson had been hesitant to settle on an endorsee this election after his experience in 2012, when his financial backing kept his friend Newt Gingrich in the race, forcing Mitt Romney, the then front-runner, to spend a lot of money early in the primary season. Adelson and his wife Miriam spent at least $20 million on political action committees backing Gingrich. Romney campaign veterans now say that expenditure was crippling when the former Massachusetts governor faced incumbent Barack Obama in the general election, although the Adelsons backed Romney when he secured the nomination.
Trump has stoked concerns among Republican Jews because of his Israel posture – he made, and then seemed to walk back, a pledge to stay neutral when it came to negotiating Israeli-Palestinian peace, and he has said he would make Israel pay for U.S. defense assistance.
But Adelson, a major backer of Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said his worries about Iran fueled his decision.
“For nearly eight years, Republicans have fought tooth and nail against President Obama and his policies,” he said.
“We waged battles over debt, government spending, Obamacare and the Iran nuclear deal — an issue of paramount importance to me personally and to many others around the world … If Republicans do not come together in support of Trump, Obama will essentially be granted something the Constitution does not allow — a third term in the name of Hillary Clinton.”
Adelson, who likes to keep political pundits guessing, dropped a hint in the op-ed that his own earlier indications that he favored two senators, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, were off the mark. Last year, Adelson’s Israeli paper, Israel Hayom, featured flattering coverage of Rubio, and Adelson told friends that he favored Rubio while Miriam favored Cruz. This year, the Adelsons each gave the maximum amount for a direct donation, $2,700, to the Cruz campaign.
“While I had some personal preferences because of friendships with some of the 2016 candidates, I kept coming back to the issue of executive experience,” Adelson said. “In my view, a governor of a state is ideally qualified to be president. A governor is a state’s final decision maker — its chief executive and steward of the public’s money.”
Former and current governors who were in the race this year included Jeb Bush of Florida, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Chris Christie of New Jersey.
Adelson said Trump’s experience running a real estate business brought what was needed to the table.
“He is a candidate with actual CEO experience, shaped and molded by the commitment and risk of his own money rather than the public’s,” he said. “He is a CEO success story that exemplifies the American spirit of determination, commitment to cause and business stewardship.”
Adelson has for weeks indicated that the GOP establishment should rally around Trump now that he is the presumptive nominee and Israel Hayom has recently shifted to flattering coverage of Trump, but this is Adelson’s boldest statement yet.
It was not clear why Adelson chose the Washington Post to make his announcement, and not one of the two influential papers he owns, Israel Hayom or the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Nor has Adelson announced whether he would funnel money to Trump’s campaign. After Gingrich dropped out in 2012, the Adelsons backed Romney, ultimately spending up to $150 million overall on the campaign to defeat Obama and help Republicans in Congress.
Adelson, while writing that that he has been “asked frequently what I would look for in a future presidential contender,” was also defensive about his own qualifications to opine.
“Despite being the grandson of a Welsh coal miner and the son of a Boston cab driver, I’ve had the remarkable experience of being part of almost 50 different businesses in my more than 70-year business career,” he said. “So, tell me I’m not a conservative-enough Republican or I’m too hawkish on Israel or whatever else you may think, but I think I’ve earned the right to talk about success and leadership.”
The casino magnate finished with a tough warning for the growing number of Republicans who say they will not vote for Trump.
“Some Republicans are sitting on the sidelines, threatening to stay home on Election Day or, worse, suggesting they will vote for Clinton,” he said. “They must realize the stakes are too high for an outcome that will have a damaging impact on our country.”