As the FiveThirtyEight noted last week, the Republican presidential field hasn't been this muddled at this admittedly early point in the race in 40 years. So while Democrats are trying to decide what color tiara to get for Mrs. Clinton, Republicans haven't even decided who's in the game yet.
And that's where Sheldon Adelson comes in. Mr. Adelson, a casino magnate and (according to Forbes) the eighth richest man in the world, hosted four potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates at his Venetian casino in Las Vegas this weekend. It was ostensibly a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and while scores of potential donors were present, the event was informally known as the "Sheldon Adelson primary."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, seen as a long-shot potential presidential candidate, reportedly made it painfully apparent who the alpha donor was, repeatedly singling out Adelson by name, as in: “In Ohio, we’re no longer fly-over [country], Sheldon."
It's no surprise. If you want to be the last Republican presidential candidate left standing in the summer of 2016, Adelson's billions would be an awfully big help. In 2012, he and his wife spent $93 million on political campaigns – most notably, sustaining Newt Gingrich's long-shot presidential run longer than most pundits thought possible.
But like many Republicans, Adelson spent a lot in 2012 and won just about nothing. And so like many Republicans, Adelson is shifting his focus from the firebrand ideologues who excite the conservative base to more "electable" candidates who can turn that money into Beltway clout, The Washington Post suggests.
"This time, the Adelsons are plotting their investments based not on personal loyalty but on a much more strategic aim: to help select a Republican nominee they believe will have broad appeal to an increasingly diverse national electorate," according to a report in the paper.
Among the non-"wacko birds" flocking to Las Vegas this weekend were Governor Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The first three all gave speeches to the coalition. Mr. Bush addressed the coalition's senior members privately.
If the gathering represented the Republican Party's broader desire to coalesce around a 2016 nominee with broad appeal, it also highlighted fault lines that remain within the party. Conspicuously not present at the event was the man that, by the somewhat dubious measure of recent polling, is actually the Republican front-runner: Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky.
Not only that, he was a bit of a running joke.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, after all, is not much of an advocate for a noninterventionist Republican Party. While that idea seems to be blossoming among the grass roots, it is anathema to Adelson and the Republican Jewish Coalition. It is safe to say Adelson's millions will not be going to someone who advises stepping back America's military involvement in global security. Applause lines in Las Vegas involved being tough on Israel's enemies.
Adelson has already been testing his influence in Washington, a New York Times report suggests. For obvious reasons, Adelson is strongly opposed to online gambling, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina introduced a bill this week to ban online gaming. Senator Graham is running for reelection this year and "has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the businessman and his family," according to the Times report.
Graham was asked about his connection to Adelson Wednesday, the Times reported.
“I would say that Sheldon has aligned himself with most Baptists in South Carolina,” Graham said. “I am on solid footing in South Carolina with people I represent. The fact that Sheldon is on board is a good thing.”
For the four Republicans who traveled to Las Vegas this weekend, getting Adelson "on board" would seem to be a very "good thing" for their 2016 prospects, too.