The Bigger the Checkbook, the Bigger the Bull
One of the more pathetic manifestations of our pretty-much-unregulated campaign finance system occurred this weekend in Las Vegas. New Jersey governor Chris Christie was speaking to a modest gathering of prospective donors from the Republican Jewish Coalition, whose views on Israel can be characterized as far to the right of any other group on earth. During one portion of his speech, Christie was describing a trip he took to Israel in 2012.
“I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across, and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day,” said Christie, as reported by Politico.
Only to members of the RJC could such a puffy, pandering comment be interpreted as inadequately supportive of Israel—or even, as one attendee told Politico, as potentially “hostile to Israel.” Do you see the “gaffe” here, reader? Chris Christie said “occupied territories,” a term that, in most circles, accurately describes territories that are occupied. But not this audience.
This audience was, effectively, one person: Sheldon Adelson, the $40-something billionaire casino magnate who is taken to throwing tens of millions of dollars to presidential candidates who say whatever he wants them to say about Israel. And what he wants them to say is . . . well, rather inflammatory! Just last year, for instance, Adelson said that the best way to negotiate with Iran would be to nuke it. Ha ha ha! (Ha?)
Naturally, it only took an hour or so for Christie to personally apologize to Adelson. Again, from Politico:
Not long after his speech, Christie met with Adelson privately in the casino mogul’s office in the Venetian hotel and casino, which hosted the RJC meeting.
The source told POLITICO that Christie “clarified in the strongest terms possible that his remarks today were not meant to be a statement of policy.”
Instead, the source said, Christie made clear “that he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.”
Adelson accepted Christie’s explanation, the source said.
Christie was one of four potential presidential candidates, along with Ohio governor John Kasich, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, whom Adelson invited to kiss his ring this weekend in Vegas. There was no way they’d turn him down, even if it meant having to debase themselves like this. In the post-Citizens United era, Adelson alone, can pay for a presidential primary campaign. He already has! Had his Super PAC not provided essentially all of Newt Gingrich’s television advertising in 2012, the eccentric former House speaker most likely would have needed to wrap things up after Iowa.
It was unclear going into the 2012 election that one billionaire would effectively pay for all of Newt Gingrich’s campaign, or that another billionaire would do the same for Rick Santorum’s. But now it’s a well-established model, and hopeful presidential candidates are preparing to wage their campaigns in just this way. In the 2016 primaries, we might see a whole field of candidates in which each politician is backed by a single billionaire donor with a supreme ego and a pet policy issue. We’ll see it in both parties, too. (Who’s your $100-million horse going to be, Tom Steyer?
With the pool of donors collapsing down to just a handful of billionaires who can float an entire campaign with one check, we should expect to see more and more tactics tailored to suit individual whims. Chris Christie will instantly apologize for using a not-especially-controversial term because Sheldon Adelson hates it. Senate Democrats will talk all night about climate change, with no underlying bill to support, because that’s Tom Steyer’s thing. And on and on, until Rand Paul or whoever is fetching David Koch a Slurpee at 4 a.m. because Koch’s got a craving. As sad as it is for our democracy, it should, at the very least, be funny to watch.