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Backed By ‘Shelly,’ Newt Takes S.C.

Success in Florida could determine Gingrich’s, Adelson’s future power

Marc Tracy
January 23, 2012
Newt and Callista Gingrich, victorious, Saturday night.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Newt and Callista Gingrich, victorious, Saturday night.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

A seemingly mediocre candidate gets suddenly hot and not a little lucky and comes away with a big win to make him one of two competitors for the ultimate victory. But enough about the New York Giants … With his decisive win (42 to 28 percent) in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich now finds himself emerging as the Official Not-Romney™ as he heads to the next two contests, the January 31 Florida primary and the February 4 Nevada caucuses. It seems likely that Gingrich will become the first Republican since 1980 to win in South Carolina and not end up the party’s standard-bearer—the Republican establishment will move to strike him down as they did a month ago, when he was on top of the Iowa polls (remember the all-Gingrich issue of National Review?) and they will probably succeed and Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate for president.

But if it does end up being Gingrich, it will be in no small part thanks to Sheldon Adelson, the richest Jew in the world (as he has boasted) and an extremely hawkish supporter of Israel. And this is quite important.

Earlier this month, Adelson materially aided Gingrich and politically helped him by changing the narrative when he donated $5 million to a pro-Gingrich group, well over half of which was spent in South Carolina. Now, there is no limit on how much Adelson can give Gingrich: ever since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, individuals face no cap on how much money they can supply to technically unaffiliated Super PACs. Two things might restrict Adelson. One is outsize use of political capital (his actual capital extends into the multibillions), but Adelson need be less worried, as he has already gotten his money’s worth with his initial “statement.” The other thing might be expectation of a poor return on his investment. Here it’s worth noting that Adelson seems to expect, should Gingrich reclaim the mantle of power (indeed, I can report that money does buy influence in politics) is, shall we say, extremely robust support for the Jewish state. In Connie Bruck’s profile, Adelson is portrayed as basically a single-issue guy. And it’s notable that the only political sentiment Adelson has publicly articulated in recent weeks was to echo Gingrich’s earlier remark about the Palestinians being an “invented” people. If you were a cynic, you might even suggest that Gingrich made that controversial remark precisely in order to wake up his old friend Shelly.

Meanwhile, we now enter Florida. Like South Carolina, it’s pretty close to must-win for Gingrich; Romney has an extremely easy post-Florida schedule. And Romney will be aided by the literally hundreds of thousands of absentee and early ballots that have already been filed, most before the game-changing South Carolina results.

But still: Florida! Old Jews! Jews made up all of 0 percent of the South Carolina Republican primary electorate, according to exit polls, but in Florida you can be sure they will crack positive numbers. Shmuel Rosner has an interesting post suggesting that Jewish Republicans most concerned with defeating President Obama tend to go for Romney over Gingrich. And Florida’s is the first contest open only to registered Republican voters; and its sheer size and diversity also favor Romney. But Gingrich remains, for now, by far the most intriguing subplot (especially since Rep. Ron Paul finished a disappointing for him/encouraging for us fourth place in South Carolina). And the Jewish/Israel/Adelson angle in turn remains Gingrich’s most intriguing subplot.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.