Trump’s biggest donors will continue to shape hawkish GOP foreign policy

Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump has signaled a decisive rebuttal to Trump’s divisive politics and mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, and saber rattling foreign policy towards Iran that has included: abrogating from the Iran nuclear deal, assassinating Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps major general Qasam Soleimani in Baghdad and heaping “maximum pressure” sanctions on Iran as the country’s hospitals teeter on the brink during a global pandemic.

But bringing the United States to the precipice of war with Iran is exactly what three of Trump’s biggest campaign backers — Casino magnates Sheldon and Miriam Adelson and Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus — have funded for years. 

Their role in bankrolling hawkish politicians and widely-quoted think tank scholars in Washington is unlikely to end with the defeat of their preferred presidential candidate.    

The influence of the Adelsons over Trump’s Middle East policy has been unmistakable. Sheldon Adelson — who in 2013 suggested detonating a nuclear bomb in an “Iranian desert” and threatening a nuclear attack on Tehran, a city of more than 12 million people, if Iran didn’t abandon its nuclear program — promoted John Bolton to Trump as his national security adviser, and Adelson’s financial support for Trump’s 2016 campaign coincided with Trump’s about-face on a variety of positions on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, bringing him closely in line with Adelson’s hawkish and pro-Likud views. 

Trump delivered on a number of important issues for the Adelsons, including abrogating from the Iran nuclear deal and moving the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

Honoring his top donors, Trump even gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Miriam Adelson, no doubt helping pave the way for the Adelsons’ support of his reelection bid.

The Adelsons came through, contributing $75 million to the pro-Trump super-PAC Preserve America. 

Bernie Marcus —who told Fox Business that “Iran is the devil” and once accused Holocaust victims of being weak and submissive — is often overshadowed by the Adelson’s largesse, but is no small donor himself. Marcus contributed $5 million to Preserve America, making him the super-PAC’s second biggest donor after the Adelsons.

But while Trump’s loss has sidelined his political career, at least for the moment, the influence of his top donors over the GOP and the beltway’s foreign policy debate, is unlikely to come to such a sudden end. 

The Adelsons may have been Trump’s biggest enablers but their scale of support for the GOP is far greater. In the 2020 election cycle, Sheldon and Miriam are expected to have contributed a total of $250 million when factoring in their support of Republican House and Senate races. 

Marcus, for his part, will have contributed over $10 million to Republican House and Senate races in the 2020 election cycle.

In short, they might be done with Trump, but they continue to form the backbone of the GOP’s campaign finance apparatus. That importance, no doubt, comes with influence over the party’s foreign policy positions. And both the Adelsons and Marcus have spent lavishly on influencing the foreign policy debate outside of their campaign financing.

Look no further than the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, an influential think tank whose staff regularly call for military action against Iran, cheerlad the Trump administration’s failed “maximum pressure” policy, and served as a hub for a controversial State Department funded program engaged in targeted harassment of American critics of the White House’s foreign policy in the Middle East. 

Sheldon Adelson contributed over $1.5 million to the group between 2008 and 2011 and Marcus contributed over $10 million in the same years. While FDD says Adelson is no longer a funder, Marcus continues to contribute over one-third of the group’s annual budget per year, sending $4.3 million to the group in 2018 alone. The Adelsons also funded United Against Nuclear Iran, a shadowy anti-Iran group that called for a de facto blockade of food and medicine to Iran. 

Trump’s loss is a setback for hawkish megadonors who invested millions of dollars in electing, reelecting, and prodding Trump toward confrontation with Iran. But their outsized roles in funding Republican congressional campaigns and an upcoming group of militarist politicians, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Rep. Elizabeth Cheney (R-Wyo.) and the possibility of future runs for office from Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley, may give them hope for the future of the hawkish wing of the Republican Party.

While Trump may have been rejected by the electorate, and his place in the history books will be hotly contested, Miriam Adelson laid bare her enamoration for one of America’s most divisive presidents in a July 2019 column in the Las Vegas Review Journal, a newspaper owned by the Adelson family, in which she celebrated the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and U.S. abrogation from the Iran nuclear deal.

Adelson, herself a dual U.S.-Israeli national, according to Las Vegas Sands Corporation financial filings, wrote:

[BQ]The world rallies to an America that is strong, and this strength is best shown by keeping faith with U.S. allies — of which Israel is the best.

By rights, Trump should enjoy sweeping support among U.S. Jews, just as he does among Israelis. That this has not been the case (so far — the 2020 election still beckons) is an oddity that will long be pondered by historians. Scholars of the Bible will no doubt note the heroes, sages and prophets of antiquity who were similarly spurned by the very people they came to raise up.

Would it be too much to pray for a day when the Bible gets a “Book of Trump,” much like it has a “Book of Esther” celebrating the deliverance of the Jews from ancient Persia?

Until that is decided, let us, at least, sit back and marvel at this time of miracles for Israel, for the United States, and for the whole world.[/BQ]

The Bible will not get its “Book of Trump” but the Adelsons, sitting on a $31 billion fortune, and Marcus, worth $6 billion, have shown a willingness to throw their financial support behind candidates and institutions that bring the United States closer to war with Iran and enable the Israeli Likud Party’s expansionist definition of Israel’s borders. In doing so, three of the GOP’s biggest funders have signaled the terms of their support for a new generation of Republican politicians with ambitions on the national stage.

This article originally appeared in Responsible Statecraft.