It turns out Sheldon Adelson did Jeb Bush the biggest favor of his not yet official presidential campaign, when he rejected him in the Adelson primary due to Bush's supposedly insufficient fealty to Israel. Of course, that’s not all Adelson did. The same weekend he hosted the 2016 hopefuls at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Las Vegas, he devoted a night to honoring Bush’s brother George W. for all he’d done for Israel and the Middle East.
With that one-two punch, Adelson showed Jeb that the man he was trying to run away from, in order to prove “I’m my own man,” held the key to his victory (at least with big donors). The Las Vegas mogul and Israel hawk thus took Bush’s biggest political problem – his brother – and made him an asset.
Since then, we’ve enjoyed the spectacle of Bush telling a roomful of wealthy New York donors that on the question of Israel, his top advisor is none other than his brother. “If you want to know who I listen to for advice, it’s him,” he told the donors. That was supposed to be off the record, in a “quiet room” Mitt Romney favored to talk about sensitive topics. As Romney learned, those quiet rooms aren’t always quiet, and some donors leaked Bush’s strange declaration to the media.
But Bush went even further this weekend, embracing his brother’s Iraq debacle wholeheartedly.
“I would have [authorized the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got,” Bush told Fox’s Megyn Kelly in an interview set to air Monday night. Bush allowed that mistakes were made after the invasion, but he had news for the haters on that one, too.
“By the way, guess who thinks that those mistakes took place as well? George W. Bush. Yes, I mean, so just for the news flash to the world, if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.”
Adelson did Bush a big favor by getting him to embrace his brother politically, but he also helped out American voters: We don’t have to scrutinize Bush’s choreographed moves to distance himself from the brother he says he loves, trying to figure out if he’s telling the truth. Journalists can save themselves a lot of work showing how Bush actually shares major donors and foreign policy advisors with the brother he says he’s different from.
To be fair, even before he lost the Adelson primary, Jeb was willing to give up his “own man” strategy if he thought he could raise the big bucks. In March, he and his brother attended a Dallas fundraiser hosted by one of W.’s top fundraisers, populated by many W. loyalists. The “own man” strategy was never going to prevail. Jeb doesn’t have enough going for him, on his own, to vanquish a GOP primary field in which he could have 20 rivals. It will require getting the Bush team back together, whatever it takes.
And while two thirds of voters in a 2014 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll said the Iraq war was “not worth it,” George W. Bush’s disastrous foreign policy remains popular with monied Republicans, who think U.S. interests are best promoted by protecting Israel and punishing Iran. Bush knew that, but thought he had to finesse his ties to his brother for a variety of reasons: worry about being tarnished by his legacy, concern that Americans don’t like dynasties, that three Bush presidents in 24 years was unseemly.
Sheldon Adelson reminded Bush that it’s donors, not voters, who matter most, at least this early in the campaign season. Voters should be grateful that Adelson introduced such clarity into what was shaping up to be a confusing race by a Bush who wasn’t sure he should run as a Bush. Now Jeb can really be his own man, which means following his own hawkish instincts and embracing his brother.