How Many Divisions Does Paul Ryan Have? Not Nearly as Many as Sheldon Adelson

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Ethan Miller/Getty

With Allied victory in the Second World War just weeks away, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met with Soviet leader Josef Stalin in the bombed out ruins of the Crimean resort town of Yalta to discuss the future of Eastern Europe.

When the British leader implored Stalin to consider the interests of the Vatican when assembling a government for post-war Poland, the Soviet dictator famously responded: “How many divisions does the Pope have?”

Perhaps a similar question could now be asked of several national political players, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who last Wednesday made the unprecedented announcement that he was not yet prepared to endorse the all but certain Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump. Irrespective of its ultimate outcome, few dates will likely prove more important than last Wednesday for the GOP nominee designate. Ironically, however, it will likely loom large for reasons having little to do with the House speaker.

Just hours after Paul Ryan’s non-endorsement – considered so sanctimonious by some, it quickly earned him the sobriquet “Pious Paul” – Donald Trump received an endorsement from GOP mega-money man Sheldon Adelson that may prove far more valuable than anything the House Speaker could have offered. The endorsement from Adelson, the somewhat reclusive multi-billionaire casino-magnate and long time Trump competitor, came not a moment too soon for a Trump campaign suddenly faced with the daunting task of raising and spending $1.5 billion to effectively compete in the fall campaign.

Not only is Adelson the first major establishment GOP donor to openly endorse Donald Trump, he is by far the largest single contributor to GOP candidates and causes. Together with his wife Miriam, Adelson is reported to have donated between $90 and $150 million of his own money to Republican candidates in 2012 alone and is said to have raised up to twice that amount from others. In contrast to Adelson’s estimated $400 million raised and donated in 2012, Paul Ryan’s total for the two year cycle 2014-2016 comes in at just over $9 million.

Until Wednesday, Adelson had stayed neutral in the 2016 Republican nomination contest. As the largest single contributor to the Republican Party, Adelson is also one of its most influential. If he equals the amount he donated and raised in 2012, the Trump candidacy would receive a much needed shot in the financial arm.

As a result of his largely self-financed primary run, Trump has virtually no existing fundraising organization or network of givers he can call upon to help him raise the money he now desperately needs to mount an effective national campaign this fall. Further complicating Trump’s task was the public reticence of some of the Republican party’s better known but far less bounteous donors to embrace the candidacy of the controversial New York developer. A spokesman for the powerful Koch Brothers told the New York Times any support for Trump would require a “significant change in tactics” for his group to “open the spigot.”

Yet at a stroke, Adelson’s endorsement will not only help Trump’s immediate cash problem, it holds out the tantalizing prospects of opening up the previously closed spigots of many GOP establishment givers. Among the many groups funded by the Las Vegas-based casino and hotel billionaire is the highly influential Republican Jewish Coalition which, until Adelson spoke, was conspicuously cool to Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Just hours before its major benefactor announced his support for the nominee in waiting, the RJC announced its focus for the fall campaign would be on securing Republican gains in the House and the Senate. How the Adelson-supported RJC responds to the announcement of its benefactor has already become one of the most closely watched bellwethers of the so called “Adelson effect.”

While attending a gala dinner in Manhattan for a Jewish philanthropy last Wednesday, Adelson was asked by a New York Times reporter if he would support Trump. “Yes,” he answered. “I’m a Republican, he’s a Republican. He’s our nominee. He won fair and square.”

Adelson is chairman and CEO of the mammoth Las Vegas Sands Corporation, the parent company of several mega-casino resort businesses that operate some of the world’s largest and most profitable casino hotels and resorts. Included in the Adelson empire are The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino and the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

More recently, Adelson entered the world of newspaper publishing. In 2007, Adelson founded the daily Israel Hayom newspaper, which in less than four years, came to utterly dominate Israel’s ferociously competitive newspaper market. Just last year, he purchased his hometown paper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Together with his wife Miriam, the Adelsons run one of the world’s largest philanthropic endeavors, the Adelson Foundation. Forbes Magazine lists Adelson, a college dropout, as the world’s 22nd richest person, with an estimated net worth of some $26 billion; down $14 billion from his estimated high before the financial crisis of 2008.

Adelson, a self-made man from Dorchester, MA is the son of an immigrant taxi driver father and seamstress mother. He began his political life like most other American Jews, as a committed liberal Democrat.

In a piece worth quoting at length, Adelson explained the source and roots of his political volte-face in a 2012 op-ed written for the Wall Street Journal during the height of the last presidential campaign. Its headline read: “I Didn’t Leave the Democrats. They Left me.”

Adelson wrote:

When members of the Democratic Party booed the inclusion of God and Jerusalem in their party platform this year, I thought of my parents. They would have been astounded. The immigrant family in which I grew up was typical of the Jews of Boston in the 1930s. Of the two major parties, the Democrats were more supportive of Jewish causes. Like most Jews around the country, being Democrat was part of our identity, as much a feature of our collective personality as our religion. So why did I leave the party?

My critics like to claim it’s because I got wealthy or because I didn’t want to pay taxes or because of some other conservative caricature. No, the truth is the Democratic Party has changed in ways that no longer fit with someone of my upbringing.

One obvious example is the party’s new attitude toward Israel. A sobering Gallup poll from last March asked: “Are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?” Barely 53% of Democrats chose Israel, the sole liberal democracy in the region. By contrast, an overwhelming 78% of Republicans sympathized with Israel.

Nowhere was this change in Democratic sympathies more evident than in the chilling reaction on the floor of the Democratic convention in September when the question of Israel’s capital came up for a vote. Anyone who witnessed the delegates’ angry screaming and fist-shaking could see that far more is going on in the Democratic Party than mere opposition to citing Jerusalem in their platform. There is now a visceral anti-Israel movement among rank-and-file Democrats, a disturbing development that my parents’ generation would not have ignored.

Democrats seem to have moved away from the immigrant values of my old neighborhood—in particular, individual charity. After studying tax data from the IRS, the nonpartisan Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported that states that vote Republican are now far more generous to charities than those voting Democratic. In 2008, the seven least-generous states all voted for President Obama. My father, who kept a charity box for the poor in our house, would have frowned on this fact about modern Democrats.

As a person who has risen from poverty and who has created jobs and benefits for tens of thousands of families, I feel obligated to support the American ideals I grew up with—charity, self-reliance, accountability. These are the age-old virtues that help make our communities prosperous. Yet, sadly, the Democratic Party no longer seems to value them as it once did. That’s why I switched parties, and why I’m now giving amply to Republicans.

By almost every measure, Sheldon Adelson ranks as one of biggest Jewish philanthropists of his time; outpacing even storied names like Rothschild, Warburg, Guggenheim, and Bronfman.

The largest recipient of Adelson Family foundation largesse is the Birthright Israel Project. Widely regarded as the most successful Jewish outreach program of all time, Birthright is a not-for-profit educational program that offers every Jewish young adult between 18 and 26 a free ten-day heritage trip to Israel during participants are encouraged to discover new meaning in their Jewish identities and better a develop personal connection to their Jewish history, heritage and culture.

Since its creation in 1999, Adelson has contributed more than $250 million to Birthright Israel; enabling nearly half a million Jewish young people to visit Israel, most for the very first time.