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March 31, 2014 10:48 AM Was the “Sheldon Primary” A Big Joke?

By Ed Kilgore

Given the tight security on Sheldon Adelson’s home turf at the Venetian (“Who let you in here?” Adelson barked at Politico’s Kenneth Vogel before having him tossed out on his ear), there’s no real way to know how this weekend’s “Sheldon Primary” turned out. But it’s entirely possible the whole thing was just a big joke the octogenarian gazillionaire was playing on the political world. He didn’t even bother to show up for Scott Walker’s speech to the Republican Jewish Conference, and wandered into the room in the middle of Chris Christie’s address—which produced the weekend’s big drama via his reported subsequent apology to Adelson for using the term “occupied territories” for the occupied territories of the West Bank.

Adelson probably got a special kick out of the speculation over his invitation list to the Vegas event. Has he ruled out senators as the object of his favor? Was the apparent passing over of his supposed buddy Mike Huckabee a sign that Adelson considers him non-viable, and if so, what was John Kasich doing there?

The whole lurid and Very Vegas scene was a reminder of the capricious nature of a presidential nominating process where an eccentric old man in an inherently shady business has the power to make a candidate instantly formidable without making much of a dent in his fortune. And for all the talk about Adelson “maturing” (a pretty funny term for someone his age) and learning a lesson from his 2012 flyer on Newt Gingrich, you have to figure he’s tempted to flaunt this power again. How many more times will he have that opportunity?

UPDATE: The only public declaration of a “winner” of the “Sheldon Primary” I’ve seen was from Las Vegas Review Journal columnist Steve Sebelius, who crowned Christie—not, apparently, based on any intel about Adelson’s reaction to the candidates, but as a result of Sebelius’ belief that the only thing Sheldon cares about presently is backing a winner, and Christie said winning was all that he care about, too. This analysis, unfortunately, begs the question of whether Christie still looks like the best general-election bet for the GOP. The polls sure don’t support that proposition.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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