Who is Newt’s sugar daddy really helping?

Sheldon Adelson will apparently plunk down another $10 million for the pro-Gingrich super PAC

Topics: War Room,

Who is Newt’s sugar daddy really helping?Newt Gingrich (Credit: AP)

CNN is reporting that Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate who in the past decade has lavished $17 million on various Newt Gingrich political groups, will cut a $10 million check for Winning Our Future, the super PAC that’s aligned with the former Speaker, by the end of this month.

But the main beneficiary of his largesse will probably be a candidate other than Gingrich: Mitt Romney

Since the Florida primary, Adelson has been sending signals that he understands Gingrich is very unlikely to win the Republican nomination, that he is perfectly comfortable with Romney being the nominee, and that he doesn’t want to hurt Romney’s long-term prospects of beating President Obama.

There are also signs that Adelson, whose political involvement stems mainly from his hawkish views on Israel and the Middle East, isn’t enthusiastic about the man who has supplanted Gingrich as Romney’s chief GOP foe, Rick Santorum. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week:

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Mr. Adelson doesn’t oppose Mr. Santorum, but he doesn’t share the former Pennsylvania senator’s socially conservative positions, including his strong antiabortion views, associates said. Mr. Santorum was one of only two Republicans who didn’t meet with Mr. Adelson in October around the time of a candidates’ debate in Las Vegas, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Viewed in this light, Adelson’s new $10 million gift could be seen as an indirect contribution to Romney. After all, Gingrich seems to run best among religious conservatives in South, where several states will vote in early and mid-March. Santorum, who has already demonstrated strength in the Midwest, badly needs to fold those southern voters into his campaign if he’s going to have a real shot at knocking off Romney. A revived, or partially revived, Gingrich could severely complicate this task.

By the same token, a revived Gingrich probably wouldn’t be much of a threat to Romney, who has had little trouble beating back the former speaker during his two previous surges. Gingrich, with all of his personal and ethical baggage and with all his influential enemies within the Republican Party, is a much easier target than Santorum for the Romney campaign.

The ideal scenario for Romney would be for Gingrich and Santorum to be equally viable in the upcoming contests, splitting up the conservative vote and allowing Romney an easy path to victory. But if he has to have one main conservative foe, he’ll be much better off if it’s Gingrich. To the extent Adelson’s $10 million makes either of these scenarios more likely, it’s a huge boost for Romney.

What may be most interesting here is the apparent ideological gulf between Gingrich’s actual voters and his chief financial backer. Gingrich has been pitching himself as the candidate for conservatives who want a true believer and who see Romney as the embodiment of a Republican establishment that doesn’t really share their values. But it turns out that the guy keeping the Gingrich campaign alive is precisely the kind of Republican they suspect Romney is.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

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