I don’t know if Mitch McConnell can get Trumpcare through the Senate after the Fourth of July. Evidently McConnell doesn’t know either. The conventional wisdom is, or was, that if McConnell roped enough Republicans on board, then America’s Most Vulnerable Senator, rattled and embattled Dean Heller, would be free to oppose the bill in the interest of saving his career. Maybe that’s how it will still play out, or not. I don’t know how Heller will vote if and when it comes to it. And I doubt he does either.
But maybe Sheldon Adelson does.
NEWS: Sheldon Adelson, who spent $$ to elect Dean Heller, is "not happy" w Heller's AHCA opposition; called to express displeasure, I'm told
— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) June 28, 2017
Adelson reportedly spent around $100 million, and perhaps as much as $150 million (dark money makes it tough to know), in the 2012 election cycle. Romney lost. So did all the Republicans in competitive Senate races that benefitted from Adelson’s lavish spending, except for one guy: Heller.
Perhaps Heller has some passionate identification with the Jewish people and a deep personal and philosophical commitment to Israel. But that identification or commitment, be it intellectual or geopolitical or spiritual, seems incongruous for a senator whose primary policy mission is allowing mining conglomerates and welfare cowboys to obliterate as much sage grouse habitat as they see fit. And yet Heller has been a lead sponsor on bills to sanction Iran and move the embassy to Jerusalem. When Trump named extremist hard-liner David Friedman ambassador to Israel, a gushing Heller was giddy with approval. Again, maybe Heller’s just taken with all things Bibi. But it doesn’t take a very large dollop of cynicism to suspect that Heller’s allegiance to Israel is first and foremost an accompaniment to his allegiance to Adelson.
Sad to note, then, that in the 2018 election cycle, Heller has already lost one Adelson primary. Heller’s hopes to escape Washington and run for governor were dashed when Adam Laxalt, also a huge, and more recent, beneficiary of Adelson’s considerable support, scared Heller out of the race. By my (and Wikipedia’s) count, Heller has been on the Nevada ballot eight times in the last 27 years, including four statewide races (three for secretary of state, one for U.S. Senate), and never lost. Heller was winning races for two decades in Nevada before Laxalt moved to Nevada. Laxalt eked out a victory in his single campaign while losing the state’s most populous county. It’s hard to believe Heller would have slinked away from the office he really wanted and surrendered the Republican nomination to Laxalt unless he knew Adelson had signed off on Laxalt, not Heller, being the GOP nominee. And these days, backing a candidate doesn’t mean contributing generously to a campaign. It means spending an actual large fortune on outside groups dedicated to total destruction of an opponent’s conduct, character, and, of course, chances. And in Nevada, Adelson also owns a newspaper with readership that demographically trends GOP primary voter.
Now we hear that the coach’s kid, Danny Tarkanian, may challenge Heller in a Senate primary. Like Heller, Tarkanian has been on the ballot multiple times over the years. Unlike Heller, Tarkanian has never won. He is, literally, a loser. Except in GOP primaries. He tends to win those.
Does Adelson care so much about repealing Obamacare — and garnering the estimated $43 million tax cut Trumpcare would give him — that Adelson would back Tarkanian over Heller for Senate? I don’t know. Maybe Heller doesn’t either. Yet. But if the health care vote does mean that much to Adelson, for whatever reason, it’s not unfair to assume that the decisive factor determining Heller’s vote will be whatever Sheldon says.