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“The Emperor Needs New Clothes”: The Time Chris Christie Stood Up To Sheldon Adelson

It was clarifying indeed to watch the rush by Chris Christie over the weekend to make up for the sin of using the term “occupied territories” in his speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, where Christie and three other 2016 contenders had assembled to court billionaire casino magnate and profligate political donor Sheldon Adelson. Never mind that Christie’s comments were couched in a strongly pro-Israel riff, or that the term “occupied territories” has been used, at various points, by the U.S. government, then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Supreme Court. No, Christie was harshly scolded for his language and issued an apology for his transgression to Adelson.

What made Christie’s penitence especially striking, though, is that not that long ago, he had been willing to stand up to the Adelson camp. In 2011, he spoke out vehemently against conservatives criticizing his nomination of a Muslim Indian-American for a Superior Court judgeship in New Jersey on the grounds that the nominee, Sohail Mohammed, would prioritize shariah law over the laws of New Jersey and the United States. In remarks that went viral on YouTube, Christie decried the “ignorance” behind the criticism. “Shariah law has nothing to do with this at all. It’s crazy,” Christie said. “The guy’s an American citizen who has been an admitted lawyer to practice in New Jersey, swearing an oath to uphold the law of New Jersey, the constitution of New Jersey and the constitution of the United States of America….This sharia law business is crap. It’s just crazy, and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies. It’s unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background…There’s nothing to any of this stuff. I’m not going to talk about sharia law because sharia law has nothing to do with Sohail Mohammed…I’m happy he’s willing to serve after all this baloney.”

Sheldon Adelson did not weigh in on the nomination of a judge for a Passaic County judgeship. But he has been credibly linked to an outfit that has for some years now been busy fanning the flames of Western paranoia about Muslim encroachment, the Clarion Fund, the distributor for an incendiary 2005 film called “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.” Haaretz reported in 2007 that Adelson had personally distributed copies of the documentary to participants in the Taglit-Birthright Israel project, which allows young American Jews to visit Israel and to which Adelson has pledged $60 million. The New York Times reported, in a 2012 article about another anti-Muslim film distributed by Clarion Group, “The Third Jihad,” that the first film had “attracted support” from Adelson, but did not elaborate on whether that support went beyond his distribution of the film to Birthright participants to include actual financial backing. (“Obsession” had considerable financial heft behind it, given that it was distributed to millions of Americans before the 2008 election as an insert in swing-state newspapers.)

The bottom line is that just a few years ago, Chris Christie was willing to ruffle feathers of the likes of Sheldon Adelson when he stood up, in typically pugnacious fashion, on behalf of a Muslim-American lawyer who had defended fellow Muslims picked up in the overbroad FBI sweeps following the September 11 attacks. Yet here he was in Vegas hurrying to make up for his dread mistake of using the “o” word. There are two ways of looking at this. One is that we’re simply seeing the inevitable tension that would arise as a relatively moderate, independent-minded Republican tried to conform to the strictures of pleasing various funders and interest groups thought necessary for a presidential run. (Leave aside the irony that Adelson’s purported goal for 2016 is to find an electable Republican to back, regardless of whether he checks all the ideological boxes, only to have coverage of his big Vegas summit dominated by a candidate’s apology for deviating from orthodoxy.)

But the other way of looking at it is that what we are witnessing is more fallout from the scandal over the politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. Had Christie still been riding high following his big re-election victory and solidifying his standing as the GOP establishment favorite in the run-up to 2016, he might’ve felt less need to plead forgiveness over a single reality-based utterance in the presence of Sheldon Adelson. But he is not riding high, and may have decided that he cannot afford forthrightness as much as he could have just a short while ago. Which again raises the question some of us have been asking since Bridgegate broke: without his famous forthrightness, what, exactly, does Chris Christie have to offer?

 

By: Alec MacGinnis, The New Republic, March 31, 2014

April 3, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Pilgrimage On Bended Knee”: Chris Christie Apologizes, For Saying Something True

Current and former Republican governors with their eyes on the 2016 presidential nomination sought casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s cash at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting this weekend in — where else? — Las Vegas.

None of the speakers, including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, and embattled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, are Jewish. But some made efforts to boast (awkwardly, the Times notes) their loyalty to the Jews.

In Christie’s case, this effort quickly turned sour, at least in Republican “pro-Israel” eyes. Like any non-Jewish politician addressing a Jewish audience, Christie fondly recalled a trip to Israel. But he made the fatal error of uttering a word that will, for this particular Jewish audience, immediately and without further thought or adjudication turn the speaker into an enemy.

“Occupied.”

Within hours, Christie had been forced by his host to apologize — ordinarily no mean feat, as long-time observers of the Bridgegate governor’s modus operandi know.

According to POLITICO’s Ken Vogel, Christie made a pilgrimage on bended knee to Adelson himself:

Not long after his speech, Christie met with Adelson privately in the casino mogul’s office in the Venetian hotel and casino, which hosted the RJC meeting.

The source told POLITICO that Christie “clarified in the strongest terms possible that his remarks today were not meant to be a statement of policy.”

Instead, the source said, Christie made clear “that he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.”

Note here that Christie, aside from his use of the forbidden (but true) word “occupied,” expressed no sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Here’s the full context: “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.” Got that? Using the word “occupied” overshadows that what Christie took away from the experience was the conclusion that Israel is the only party facing risk and danger.

Scott Walker is no doubt doing a little happy dance right now. With all the attention on Christie’s faux pas, no one is paying attention to his lame pander that he likes to light a menorah during the Christmas holiday season.

 

By: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, March 30, 2014

March 31, 2014 Posted by | Christianity, Israel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Corrosive Effect On Public Confidence”: The ‘Sheldon Primary’ Is One Reason Americans Distrust The Political System

Several prospective Republican presidential candidates have gathered in Las Vegas for the opening round of what has been dubbed “the Sheldon Primary,” an event emblematic of how warped the system for financing presidential elections has become.

The Sheldon Primary is named for Sheldon Adelson, the wealthy casino owner who, with his wife, poured more than $92 million into the 2012 elections. Despite all that money, Adelson made some bad bets in the last election, first on former House speaker Newt Gingrich to win the Republican nomination and then on Mitt Romney to defeat President Obama in the general election.

He is now looking toward 2016 with a fresh eye, determined, according to The Post’s Matea Gold and Philip Rucker, to find a non-extremist candidate who can actually win the presidency. Those who are looking at running would be happy to have that kind of financial support. Some of them have come to Las Vegas on Friday for a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, but also to meet privately with Adelson.

Adelson has become a symbol of the new system of financing presidential elections. He and others play under legal rules. But this new financing structure has had a corrosive effect on public confidence in government and politicians. It is why so many Americans feel shut out of the process.

Many people have had a role in bringing the system to this point — the courts, special interests, incredibly wealthy individuals with their own agendas and candidates seeking to gain political advantage in the fierce competition that is presidential politics.

A series of court decisions, the most prominent being the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has hastened the rise of super PACs. These political action committees are the new behemoths in political campaigns. They are allowed to take unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals. They can openly advocate for individual candidates, and candidates can help raise money for them. But they are supposed to operate independent of those candidates.

Court decisions also helped usher in a new era of shadowy financing of political activity by so-called “social welfare” groups. Like super PACs, these groups also take huge individual donations — $10 million, $20 million, $30 million — but they are not required to disclose their contributions. They can engage in political activity within limits, but those limits have done little to slow their growth.

Meanwhile, the system of public financing for presidential candidates that came into being after the Watergate scandal and that once was universally accepted and respected by those seeking the presidency has been systematically shredded over the course of the last four presidential campaigns.

In 2000, George W. Bush opted out of public financing in his nomination campaign because money was flowing so freely into his campaign war chest and he was worried about rival Steve Forbes’s ability to fund his own campaign out of his private fortune. John F. Kerry and Howard Dean followed suit four years later in their nomination battle. That effectively destroyed the use of public money in pursuit of the nomination.

Then in 2008, Obama took it a step further. Fueled by nearly half a billion dollars in online donations alone, candidate Obama decided to forgo public financing in the general election after suggesting that he would stay within the system if his Republican rival did, too. His opponent, Sen. John McCain, was one of the most ardent advocates of campaign finance reform who was left to chastise Obama for turning his back on a general election public financing structure designed to level the playing field. Having seen what happened in 2008, Romney in 2012 followed Obama out the door of public financing.

All of these candidates who pulled out of public financing put political need ahead of public interest. They chose to quit the system because by doing so they could spend well beyond the limits of what the law allowed if they accepted federal matching funds. Meanwhile, some of their rivals were constrained by the limits imposed by the acceptance of public money.

What is left now is an arms race in presidential campaign fundraising by the candidates and a new power base, the quasi-independent force of the super PACs, which have eclipsed the political parties as powerbrokers in the campaign process.

Courting wealthy people will always be an essential part of running for president. But the outsize influences of people who are prepared to give tens of millions to a super PAC or the contributor who can bundle hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations have changed the game.

The ability to raise huge amounts of money has become an even more important attribute for those seeking the presidency, a yardstick to stratify the field of candidates long before the voters have taken a serious look at the field.

Dark horse candidates still can break through in one of the early states, as former senator Rick Santorum did in 2012. But anyone thinking of running for president today would be urged by those who shape this inside game not even to think about taking public funds to help finance their campaign and to build a financial foundation designed to go the distance.

Obama was initially critical of super PACs, but there is no longer any hesitation among Democrats to play in this new world. Hillary Rodham Clinton already has a super PAC organizing on her behalf, though she is far from making an announcement about whether she will run in 2016. Priorities USA, which supported Obama in 2012, has reconstituted itself more aggressively than ever in preparation of her candidacy.

Republican politicians know that whomever Adelson and his wife decide to support in 2016 will have what is now a required asset of any campaign—a well-funded super PAC that can provide additional armor against the inevitable attacks from opponents and which can lead the attacks against rivals who threaten their path to victory. Those who lose the Sheldon Primary will look to other rich people to fund other super PACs dedicated solely to the promotion and protection of their candidacies.

Super PACs have yet to prove they can decide the outcome of elections. Romney lost the general election despite having a clear advantage in the amount of outside money on his side. But the super PACs’ role in the GOP nominating process was more significant. Without Adelson at his side, Gingrich might not have lasted as long as he did. Without the support of his own super PAC, Romney might have had a more difficult time fending off Gingrich and later Santorum. That knowledge is what has brought several prospective candidates to Las Vegas.

When W. Clement Stone, an insurance magnate and philanthropist, gave $2 million to Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 campaign, it caused public outrage and contributed to a movement that produced the post-Watergate reforms in campaign financing. Accounting for inflation, that $2 million would equal about $11 million in today’s dollars. If not exactly commonplace, contributions of that size or larger are now an accepted part of the presidential campaign process, in some cases without real transparency. Is it any wonder that the public has a cynical view of how the system works?

 

By: Dan Baltz, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 28, 2014

March 31, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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