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John L. Smith On The Spat Between Sheldon Adelson And Pres. Trump

Businessman and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson waits for the arrival of President Donald Trump to a campaign rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020, in Las Vegas.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Businessman and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson waits for the arrival of President Donald Trump to a campaign rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020, in Las Vegas.

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, Nevada’s biggest political contributor, is back in the news after what’s being described as a heated phone call with President Donald Trump

According to the New York Times, Adelson had reached out to Trump to ask about the coronavirus relief package and the economy.

Trump turned it around and asked why Adelson hasn’t done more to support Trump’s reelection campaign.

Adelson and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, have poured tens of millions of dollars into the Republican Party in recent years.

But contributor John L. Smith said this election cycle is different.

"Sheldon Adelson has not given anywhere near as generously to Trump as he did in that 2016 election cycle,” he said. “In this election cycle, they’ve essentially given a $1 million, which is, of course, a lot of money to you and me, but it’s nothing compared to $80-plus million in 2016, with $100 million spent overall, another $120-some million in the 2018 election cycle, which was not overly successful for Republicans.”

Smith said the Adelsons have given money to many Senate campaigns in an effort to keep the Senate in GOP hands. The casino mogul is involved in politics but that involvement is making to the White House, he said.

And, Smith noted, Adelson has a lot of influence over other big donors.

“Adelson is a key player. He’s a key player on a lot of levels for Trump because he also represents a certain constituency of other wealthy donors. Where Sheldon Adelson and his wife go with their money a lot of people will follow,” he said.

Of course, President Trump has his own money and plenty of wealthy friends to call on but Smith said it takes tens of millions of dollars to win a presidential campaign.

“When you see someone not giving to a campaign who has been so generous in the past, I think it safe to say that there is no Donald Trump presidency without Sheldon Adelson’s checkbook,” Smith said.

Smith said that is just how big of a player Adelson is in Republican politics. He said if Adelson and the president don't mend fences it could mean bad things for the president in November.

And Smith is not sure there is much Trump can do to Adelson, noting the casino magnate and megadonor is 87 years old and worth $30 billion.

“I don’t know if Trump can hurt Adelson. I do believe that no one wants to get on Adelson’s bad side or have him walk away from a deal and these guys are dealers," he said, "Trump knows that he needs the fuel if he’s going pull off a re-election.”

Just a year ago, Miriam Adelson earned the Medal of Freedom from Trump. She then suggested the Bible contain a Book of Trump. 

Ammon Bundy at an anti-mask rally in Utah

“He’s a popular spokesman on a certain circuit, especially in the West, when it comes to questions of liberty and land use,” Smith said.

Smith said the rally was in Orem, and it focused on concerns about students wearing masks when they return to school. He said Bundy's remarks had political underpinnings.

"He talks about dark days ahead if we put masks on our children and if we wear masks in public we are somehow giving up our liberties and our freedoms and it’s a slippery slope,” he said.

It is the kind of rhetoric that we've heard before but has become more pronounced during the pandemic, Smith said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Utah had avoided a large spike and thought they might not experience a surge. However, Smith pointed out the virus crosses state lines easily and doesn't care about your way of life, "it just responds to best medical practices."

During his speech, Bundy compared the mask mandate to forced sterilization in Nazi Germany.

Smith said an "overheated metaphor" might get applause in Orem, Utah, “but the bottom line is – if you don’t follow the directions you wind up setting these brush fires elsewhere.”

John L. Smith, contributor

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.