by James M. Wall
Newt Gingrich is the current holder of the Republican crown. Saturday night, NBC projected Gingrich as the winner in the South Carolina Republican primary over his closet rival, Mitt Romney.
With 94% of the votes counted, Gingrich was winning by a 40% to 27% margin over Romney, much larger than advance polls has predicted.
The race for an opponent to run against incumbent President Barack Obama is down to two candidates, a former House Speaker, and a former Governor.
Romney, a wealthy Mormon (as we will see when he releases his IRS return), was second in South Carolina, a state with a Mormon population of less than one per cent (.08%), while Gingrich, a former Southern Baptist now a Catholic, won the primary in a predominantly conservative Protestant state.
The early South Carolina primary was pivotal for Gingrich and a major setback for Romney. After losing in Iowa and New Hampshire, Gingrich appeared on his way out of politics. He was a distant second in polls the week before the South Carolina voting. Republican big money was lining up behind Romney.
Money dried up for Gingrich. It certainly did not help that he is a candidate who carries some of the heaviest political baggage this country has seen in these quadrennial shifts in American political power, three wives, admitted infidelities, two divorces, and an ethics charge that led to disciplinary action during his time as House speaker.
Gingrich was not giving up. He turned for help from one of the richest men in America, Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino owner and Mr. Gingrich’s longtime friend and patron. The two men share a politically conservative ideology and a deep loyalty to Israel.
Adelson ignored other big money Republicans who begged him to stay out of the South Carolina race. They wanted the momentum to shift immediately to Romney. In response, according to a New York Times report, two weeks before Saturday’s South Carolina primary, a $5 million check from Mr. Adelson arrived at the offices of Winning Our Future (WOF), a “super PAC” that supports Mr. Gingrich.
By Monday morning, January 9, WOF “had reserved more than $3.4 million in advertising time in South Carolina, a huge sum in a state where the airwaves come cheap.” The money was used “to air portions of a movie critical of Mr. Romney’s time at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he helped found.”
This last minute injection, the Times points out,
underscores how the 2010 landmark Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance has made it possible for a wealthy individual to influence an election. Mr. Adelson’s contribution to the super PAC is 1,000 times the $5,000 he could legally give directly to Mr. Gingrich’s campaign this year.
The Times interviewed several sources “with knowledge of Mr. Adelson’s decision to donate to Winning Our Future”. They said the support of WOF comes from a two-decade friendship linking Gingrich to Adelson in a bond of a shared advocacy on behalf of Israel.
The friendship of the two men dates back to the mid-1990s, when Gingrich was in the House of Representatives. Adelson’s staff knew they would find a kindred spirit in Gingrich, who was known to have a personal animosity against labor unions.
Mr. Adelson was building his newest resort casino, the Venetian, and became embroiled in a battle with a local culinary union trying to organize his employees. The conflict soured further when Adelson helped finance a campaign in Nevada to pass legislation curtailing the ability of labor unions to automatically deduct money from members to finance political activities.
Gingrich helped Adelson’s team develop an anti-union pitch in support of the Nevada legislation. Gingrich supported the legislation and was honored with a Nevada fund raiser. Gingrich and Adelson became fortuitous pals out of this initial anti-union campaign.
Their friendship extended to their common support for Israel:
Both men have long been staunch American allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Mr. Adelson owns a free daily newspaper in Israel [Israel Hayom] that is credited with helping Mr. Netanyahu return to power in 2009.
In May 2010, the cover of a special section of the paper featured a full-page photograph of Mr. Gingrich in front of an American flag, with Mr. Gingrich criticizing the Obama administration for not moving more aggressively against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
After Obama’s election, the bond that centered on Israel grew deeper. In an interview he gave in December, 2011, Gingrich declared “that Palestinians are an “invented” people — meaning they had no historical claim to have their own state and that they remain committed to destroying Israel.
Mr. Adelson endorsed Gingrich’s comments a few days later in an interview with Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper in which he declared: “Read the history of those who call themselves Palestinians, and you will hear why Gingrich said recently that the Palestinians are an invented people.”
Adelson is the money man; Gingrich the political leader. Together, once they get past Mitt Romney, they plan to confront Barack Obama in November about his failure to provide Israel 100% support.
Adelson made his money initially in casinos. Gingrich honed his political skills in the very Red state of Georgia.
Gingrich is a former college professor who taught history, geography and environmental studies at West Georgia college before entering politics as a congressman from Georgia. He rose quickly in Republican power circles. He was the House Minority Whip from 1989 to 1995 and the 58th Speaker of the US House from 1995 to 1998. A poor showing in the 1998 House elections led to his resignation in November, 1998.
Gingrich has once again proven that he is a politician who is smart, tough and attuned to the conservative political pulse, especially in a state like South Carolina, where loyalty to Israel has become a conservative Protestant White Christian biblical belief.
Voters, who once could not find Israel on a world map, have found Israel in their Bibles. This is not a group that will embrace Barack Obama’s reelection. They will go with whatever candidate the Republican Party hands them. Gingrich is, at the moment, that candidate.
Israel supporters form narrow, but strategically located voter blocs, dependable, to be sure, though not yet a national majority. But Gingrich is adaptable and shifty in a political fight. His next primary comes in Florida, January 31, where two dependable voter blocs should help him repeat the South Carolina pattern, once again overlooking his past sins and embracing his devotion to Israel and political conservatism.
The two voting groups in Florida are ethnic Jewish voters who live in the southern part of the state, and conservative biblical literalist Protestant White Christians in the middle and northern sections of the state.
Once campaign budget poor, and now funded by Adelson’s money donated through WOF, Gingrich can now turn for financial backing to those major Republican donors who wanted Romney when they thought he was the inevitable winner. These donors will have no difficulty shifting to the former Georgia college professor.
They do not like what they see currently in the Obama White House. Unlike the younger Bush and Bill Clinton, this Democratic president is resisting orders from Tel Aviv. The latest sign of this White House resistance to Israeli bellicosity came at the end of 2011 when Israel enlisted an obedient US Congress to join in a major effort to force a halt to all nuclear power development in Iran.
Israel persuaded the US to enter into a joint military exercise as a show of solidarity of the two military powers. Obama appears to have been a reluctant participant, seeing it as too much of an emphasis on the threat of a military action when Obama’s team wanted to avoid another war in the Middle East. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked the negotiation game. Suspicion points to Israel’s Mossad for sabotaged Iranian nuclear development, and assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists.
After the early January assassination of Iranian scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, Barack Obama took an action US presidents before him rarely dared consider. He informed Israel that the US would not take part in the planned joint military exercises with Israel. Finally, the Big Dog took command of its own tail. The US favored negotiations with Iran. Israel’s militant tactics were not conducive to peaceful negotiations.
It was clear that this was a response to Israel’s actions against Iran, actions they deny with an ambigious swagger, as former CIA analyst Ray McGovern explains for Consortium News:
On Jan. 11, just three days after [US Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta’s assertion that the Iranians were not trying to develop a nuclear weapon, assassins in Tehren attached a bomb to a car carrying Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, an Iranian scientist connected with Iran’s nuclear development program. The attack killed Roshan, making him the fifth such victim in the last couple of years.
Suspicion immediately focused on Israel, which has historically engaged in cross-border assassinations of people it considers a threat. Usually in these cases, Israel offers some ambiguous semi-denial. This time, however, Israeli officials mostly swaggered. Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, posted a statement on Facebook, saying: “I don’t know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but I certainly am not shedding a tear.”
News of the cancellation of the joint US-Israeli military exercise reached Israeli readers of Israel Hayom (Sheldon Aldeson’s Israeli newspaper) which reported “the military drill with Israel entailing the deployment of thousands of American troops this spring has suddenly been canceled”. Mondoweiss informed its readers of the cancellation on its web site. President Obama had sent the message to Netanyahu that it was time to “stand down”.
Prime Minister Netanyahu gave his Defense Minister the crow-eating assignment to break the official news to the Israeli public. Ehud Barack put on his brave face and told the Israeli public that there was a change in plans.
After months of intense warnings about the imminent danger of a nuclear armed Iran, Israel stood down. The threat had eased. The “mushroom cloud” disappeared.
On Tuesday night of this week, President Obama will deliver his annual State of the Union address. I, for one, will listen to that address with the same gratitude and pride I felt when Obama delivered his first State of the Union address in 2009.
We may not like every action our President has taken, or will take, but Barack Obama has clearly taken a stand on the future of the Middle East, a stand that is morally sound and politically courageous. An Israeli military option against Iran is currently off the table. Inshallah, it will stay off.
For those who wish to follow the President’s Tuesday night speech, here is a preview from the White House:
The picture above of President Obama is a White House photo taken by Pete Souza.