Republican Superdonor Miriam Adelson Is Back

Happy Wednesday! It’s bad enough that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis can’t regain his footing in the polls—now he’s got to deal with the fashion police too.

Up to Speed

  • Conservative opposition is hardening in Congress against additional aid to Ukraine and Israel, even as President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell continue to drum up support for legislation tackling both issues at once. House Speaker Mike Johnson on Sunday unveiled a standalone $14.5 billion package of aid for Israel—coupled with a proportional cut to the new IRS funding passed by Democrats in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.
  • The House of Representatives will address some interpersonal issues this week, with several measures directed against its own members to chew through in the next few days. The House will vote Thursday on whether to expel freshman New York Republican Rep. George Santos, who infamously fabricated most of his biography while running for Congress and has been charged with dozens of federal financial crimes. It will also consider a Republican-led resolution to censure Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat, and a Democrat-led resolution to censure that resolution’s author, GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
  • Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley said Tuesday he would introduce legislation intended to claw back protections for corporate political speech established in the landmark 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The bill—which would almost certainly be slapped down as unconstitutional—is yet another example of the odd crosscurrents roiling GOP politics today. Citizens United has long been a favorite bogeyman of Washington Democrats, but populist agitation against “special interests” and the “donor class” has lately been growing on the right as well. In a lunch meeting Tuesday, Mitch McConnell reportedly threatened to pull super PAC support from any senators who signed onto Hawley’s bill.

Miriam Adelson Reemerges as GOP Power Player

Miriam Adelson at the Republican Jewish Coalition's Annual Leadership Summit on October 28, 2023, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Miriam Adelson at the Republican Jewish Coalition's Annual Leadership Summit on October 28, 2023, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS—Of all the VIPs to grace the Republican Jewish Coalition with their attendance at the group’s annual leadership conference, Miriam Adelson may have been the most significant.

The Republican megadonor has been relatively disengaged from politics since the January 2021 death of her husband, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The two were partners in politics: taking meetings together, peppering candidates and organizations asking for contributions with equal vigor, and writing matching checks. Miriam Adelson still donated during last year’s midterm election cycle, but short of the levels and direct, personal involvement Republicans had grown accustomed to as she mourned her husband and devoted herself to friends and family.

But Adelson, 78, was a major presence throughout last weekend’s RJC gathering. Knowledgeable sources say it signals she is jumping back into GOP politics with both feet—and that the Adelson money spigot is opening wide ahead of heated 2024 battles for Congress and the White House at a time when the Republican Party needs all of the financial help it can get. 

It makes sense: Republicans for years have been reliable supporters of Israel, a key priority for Adelson.

“You can’t witness a Nazi attack in Israel and not be moved, and not want to get more involved and more engaged and make a statement that this cannot stand,” said Eric Levine, a GOP donor and RJC member from New York. “Her statement of showing up, at a minimum, says: We are here to fight the Nazis.” Levine was referring to the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack that targeted Israeli civilians, killing more than 1,400 amid widespread torture and kidnapping.

The RJC’s regular fall conference, along the Las Vegas strip in an upscale casino resort developed by Sheldon Adelson, was dominated by concerns about rising antisemitism and the war in Israel fomented by the Hamas attack. More than 1,000 attendees heard from several prominent Republicans—presidential contenders and top congressional leaders—including Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota and new House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana. Nearly all of them promised robust U.S. financial and military aid for Israel. 

But in many ways, it was Miriam Adelson who was the star of the show. In the middle of his Friday evening dinner keynote address, Sen. Lindsey Graham segued to recall a trip he had taken to Israel with the Adelsons in the early 1990s. He spoke of the mark it left on him and his foreign policy views. “I didn’t know what a Zionist was. But after the trip, I did,” the South Carolina Republican said, looking directly at Adelson, who was seated in the center of the ballroom, near the dais.

“Miriam, I want to thank you,” Graham added, “for all you’ve done, for the state of Israel, for our country—we miss Sheldon, we love you.” The crowd erupted in applause. 

Adelson was the star of the show behind the scenes as well. As first reported by Marc Caputo at the Messenger, she met with former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, for a one-on-one dinner. But Trump was not the only politician at the Las Vegas conference to score a private meeting with Adelson, who is neutral in the presidential primary.

She met with Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee; she met with Johnson, who is endeavoring to get up to speed on fundraising after replacing his rainmaking predecessor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California; and she met with White House hopeful Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and ex-South Carolina governor. Adelson met with additional candidates and incumbent officeholders. 

“Obviously, people wanted to talk to her about Israel,” Adelson adviser Andy Abboud told The Dispatch in a text message exchange. Regarding her meetings with Haley and Trump, Abboud added this caveat: “She emphasized her ongoing neutrality.” (Adelson has previously held private discussions with many of the top Republican presidential contenders.)

So, how much might Adelson’s renewed focus on campaign politics be worth to the Republican Party? 

In the 2022 election cycle, she contributed more than $27 million to GOP candidates, party committees, and allied groups, according to figures compiled by Open Secrets, a nonpartisan research organization that tracks money in politics. By almost anyone’s standard, that’s engaged rather than disengaged. But compare that to what the Adelsons donated to the Republican cause in the 2020 election cycle: More than $111 million.

The possibility of seeing Adelson’s contributions return to form helps explain why there was perhaps more buzz about her in the corridors of the RJC conference than any of the party bigwigs who trekked to Las Vegas to appeal to—and pay homage to—this influential group of wealthy campaign donors and political activists.

Mike Johnson Bear Hugs McCarthy’s Political Infrastructure

In the wake of Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s defenestration as speaker of the House, many party insiders mourned the demotion of their top donor-schmoozer and openly fretted that his replacement wouldn’t be able to measure up in the fundraising department. And that was before the caucus anointed Rep. Mike Johnson, a penumbral member of leadership who raised only $1.5 million during last year’s midterm cycle.

But Johnson has worked swiftly to assuage these fears since taking the gavel, moving to attach himself to the infrastructure left behind by McCarthy. On Monday, he went to Politico to announce he would work alongside the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC helmed by Dan Conston that was a major engine of McCarthy’s big-dollar fundraising. And on Tuesday, Johnson announced he would hire Billy Constangy—formerly chief of staff for National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Richard Hudson—to head up his political operation.

The issue wasn’t that Johnson lacked the “raw talent” to be a great fundraiser, one NRCC source told The Dispatch: “He just didn’t have the relationships or the infrastructure that came with a McCarthy, that had been built up over many, many years. … And so I think these early moves that you’ve seen from him on staffing show that he is hiring true pros.”

The moves weren’t unexpected. Both the CLF and the NRCC have been fundraising juggernauts under McCarthy, and trying to stand up brand new operations mid-cycle—we’re only a year out from the 2024 election—would have been a gargantuan task even for a speaker with more political experience.

But it also wasn’t a guarantee that Johnson would take the glide path; after all, streamlining the political apparatus can sometimes take a back seat to intra-party positional jockeying. 

One striking example of this came on the Senate side during last year’s midterms, when personal friction between then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Florida Sen. Rick Scott metastasized into divergent political strategies for the major funding groups they respectively headed: the Senate Leadership Fund and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Staffers for the two groups were openly feuding by the time the Georgia runoff rolled around.

GOP Senators to Tim Scott: Hey, Man, Good Try

As the only senator currently seeking the Republican presidential nomination—and a well-liked, collegial one at that—South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott has collected effusive praise from his colleagues since his presidential launch. But do any of them still think he has a shot? On the site today, Mike reports how “many are beginning—gently, with plenty of love—to suggest that Scott’s path to the White House isn’t viable.”

“I think he comes from a good place. He’s got great conservative values,” Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana told The Dispatch on Tuesday. “But I think he’s up against a juggernaut in Trump. For any of them that are wanting to think about how they overcome that, I don’t see how that works.”

Some of Scott’s colleagues were more delicate with their counsel. “It’s challenging for anybody,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. “But he’ll know when the time is right.”

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, was fresh out of advice for Scott on Tuesday. When asked by The Dispatch what he would tell Scott to do to improve his position in Iowa, Romney climbed into an elevator, opened his mouth as if preparing to respond, and then shrugged his shoulders as the doors closed.

Notable and Quotable 

 “Those are just standard, off-the-rack Lucchese boots.”

—Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addressing internet rumors that he wears hidden height-boosting heels, October 30, 2023

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