They make awkward bedfellows, to be sure: Mitt Romney, the strait-laced Mormon who does not gamble, drink or cavort, and Sheldon Adelson, the socially liberal casino mogul whose resorts rank among the world’s favorite places to do all three.
Yet Romney met with Adelson Tuesday in Las Vegas, and the billionaire has pledged to support Romney against President Obama -- presumably with money earned from gambling, which “undermines the virtues of work and thrift,” according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
There is inherent irony in the alliance with a man whose profession so clearly conflicts with Romney’s religious mores. But gambling is an activity on which Romney has generally favored regulation over condemnation. And the meeting with Adelson -- who has contributed $25.3 million to conservative candidates and committees during the current election cycle, none of it to Romney -- is only the latest example of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s willingness to embrace people and policies with which he personally disagrees.
As a US Senate candidate in 1994, Romney backed a proposed casino in New Bedford.
“I don’t do a lot of gambling myself, but I respect the right of others to make their own choices, and if the residents of this community want to gamble that’s certainly their right,” Romney said at the time.
Running for Massachusetts governor in 2002, Romney promised to close a looming $2 billion budget gap without raising taxes and said the prospect of a tax-paying casino in Massachusetts is “attractive to me.”
“I don’t have any particular problem with there being legalized gambling in the Commonwealth because we already have it,” Romney added. “We already have Keno, we already have track betting, we already have the Lottery.”
Once in office, Romney tried to use his openness to casino gambling as a political club: In his first budget proposal as governor, Romney called on casino operators in Connecticut and Rhode Island to pay $75 million per year in “blocking payments” to keep the Bay State from opening its own, competing casinos. The operators refused.
Romney also proposed licensing video slot machines that he claimed would generate $300 million to $800 million in annual tax revenue. The state Legislature rejected the plan.
The Mormon church is categorically opposed to gambling, “including lotteries sponsored by governments,” according to the official LDS website.
“Gambling is motivated by a desire to get something for nothing,” the church site explains. “This desire is spiritually destructive.”
Gambling has been an obscure issue in Romney’s current White House bid, but it has surfaced when he campaigns in Nevada, a state teeming with both casinos and Mormons.
Recently, Romney, the former president of the church’s Boston stake, revealed a view of gambling that more closely aligns with Mormon doctrine. He told a Las Vegas television station in February that he is against legal online poker because gambling is addictive and exacts a social toll on its participants.
At other times in his political career, Romney has displayed a readiness to set aside his convictions. The best-known example is abortion: Though he has always maintained a personal opposition to abortion, he endorsed abortion rights and even appeared at a Planned Parenthood fund-raiser in 1994. In the current campaign, he has vowed to eliminate the group’s federal funding.
Romney’s visit to Las Vegas Tuesday also included a fund-raiser with Donald Trump, the celebrity businessman who is a prominent “birther.” Trump has consistently questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States, most recently last week, when on Twitter he wondered if Obama “ever applied to Occidental, Columbia, or Harvard as a foreign student.”
The Obama campaign has urged Romney to disassociate himself from Trump. Though he has said Obama’s place of birth is a non-issue for him, Romney refused to reject Trump Monday, saying, “I don’t agree with all the people who support me, and my guess is they don’t all agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1 percent or more, and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”
Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.