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Mega-Donor Sheldon Adelson Won’t Back Bannon’s War on the GOP

Mega-Donor Sheldon Adelson Won't Back Bannon's War on the GOP Vanity FairCasino mogul and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson publicly breaks ties with Steve Bannon Daily MailReport: Adelson splits with Bannon over 2018 efforts The HillFull coverage

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As they noshed on sushi and Thai-inspired taquitos on Sunday evening, klezmer music wailing in the background, the wealthy guests at the Zionist Organization of America’s annual blowout marveled at the right-wing celebrities in their midst. Sean Spicer and Sebastian Gorka couldn’t walk five feet without being asked for selfies. Alan Dershowitz held court over a small crowd of journalists. Senator Tom Cotton gamely mingled with Joe Lieberman, Chris Ruddy, and other members of the hawkish, pro-Israel power elite. But it was Steve Bannon, self-proclaimed “Christian Zionist” and the evening’s keynote speaker, who drew the most whispers (and, befittingly, a crowd of protesters outside Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt). Conspicuously absent from the roped-off V.I.P. table, however, was the Z.O.A.’s biggest donor, and perhaps the most powerful pro-Israel American of them all: Sheldon Adelson, whom Bannon was slated to introduce on stage.

Though his absence went largely unremarked upon, a source told me that some in the crowd were surprised the next day when Adelson, the casino billionaire and wealthy Republican kingmaker, issued a public statement leaving no doubt where he stands when it comes to the Breitbart chairman’s quest to overhaul the establishment Republican Party, reshaping Congress in his image in 2018. “The Adelsons will not be supporting Steve Bannon’s efforts,” Andy Abboud, Adelson’s spokesman, told Politico on Monday, saying that instead they would back his establishment rival, Mitch McConnell, “100 percent. For anyone to infer anything otherwise is wrong.”

The statement reads as an awkward coda to Bannon’s remarks at the dinner, wherein he praised the mogul for standing by Trump after the Access Hollywood tape leaked during the election. “Sheldon Adelson didn’t cut and run,” Bannon told the moneyed crowd. “Sheldon Adelson had Donald Trump’s back. Sheldon Adelson offered guidance and counsel and wisdom of how to get through it. He was there for Donald Trump about how to comport oneself and how to dig down deep, and it was his guidance and his wisdom that helped get us through it.”

It’s unclear to what extent the statement comes as a blow to Bannon, given that there’s some doubt Adelson supported the Breitbart News chief’s populist insurgency in the first place. Back in October, Politico reported that Adelson, who is more traditional when it comes to domestic policy, met with Bannon privately to discuss Israel-related issues, on which they share similar views, but declined to fund his congressional midterm efforts. The Bannon camp downplayed Adelson’s statement, saying that it was inevitable the two men would not see eye to eye, and that Bannon had not asked Adelson for money—“How do you lose someone you never tried or expected to get?” Andy Surabian, the director of the Bannon-backed Great America PAC, told me. But several people close to Adelson told Politico they had ”grown concerned” about his ties to Bannon, who is finding it difficult to disassociate himself with the white nationalists drawn to his vehemently anti-immigrant, anti-trade agenda.

Bannon’s steadfast support of Roy Moore, the Senate candidate he backed in Alabama’s G.O.P. primary against McConnell’s preferred candidate, Luther Strange, hasn’t exactly helped his cause. Over the past week, Moore has been slammed with multiple allegations that he molested teenage girls when he was in his 30s, seemingly validating McConnell’s charge that Bannon’s populist-nationalism would end with unelectable Republican candidates. (Bannon, naturally, blamed the media for pursuing an anti-Moore agenda, and made sure to issue a general denunciation of the press during his Z.O.A. remarks.)

Nor has Bannon’s cause benefited from his historic association with fringe figures. Earlier this month, Bannon lost the backing of longtime patron Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund billionaire who had infused Breitbart with cash and helped bankroll an entertainment venture run by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopolous. In an open letter denouncing white supremacists within the nationalist movement, Mercer announced that he would be pulling funding from Milo Inc. and selling his stake in Breitbart to his daughter, Rebekah. “I have great respect for Mr. Bannon, and from time to time I do discuss politics with him,” Mercer wrote in an open letter to investors in Renaissance Technologies, from which he stepped down as co-C.E.O. “However, I make my own decisions with respect to whom I support politically. Those decisions do not always align with Mr. Bannon’s.”

But if Adelson sought to reject Bannon, the Z.O.A., which counts him and his wife, Miriam, as major donors, did not get the memo: it welcomed Bannon as an honored guest, sending out a press release before the gala saying it was “proud and fortunate” to have the the former White House chief strategist on its side, and feted him on Sunday with a cheesecake buffet, free-flowing wine, and a candlelit table, even in Adelson’s absence.

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