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The Donors Donald Trump Can't Afford to Lose

Newsweek 2023-02-23 Ewan Palmer
Former U.S. President Donald Trump greets people as he arrives for a New Years event at his Mar-a-Lago home on December 31, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. © Joe Raedle/Getty Images Former U.S. President Donald Trump greets people as he arrives for a New Years event at his Mar-a-Lago home on December 31, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida.

As the battle for the Republican 2024 presidential primary heats up, there is a separate fight brewing over attracting key GOP donors.

It was recently reported by Politico that Donald Trump will hold an "intimate candlelight dinner" at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for some of his main political donors on Thursday, February 22.

The following day, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, seen as Trump's biggest rival for the GOP presidential nomination, will also host a special three-day event for his own contributors at the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach.

While DeSantis hasn't confirmed his intention to run in 2024 yet, there is a potentially huge significance in the fact many of those expected to attend the Florida governor's retreat are those who formerly backed Trump.

One donor who has confirmed he already switched allegiances to DeSantis is Don Tapia, who served as Trump's U.S. ambassador to Jamaica from 2019 to 2021 and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the former president's 2020 and 2016 campaigns.


"The name-calling has turned a lot of people off," Tapia said of Trump. "Let me tell you, we don't like that."

The issue of top GOP donors leaving Trump for DeSantis, especially after the midterms, has been listed as one of the many reasons why the Florida governor is being touted as the next de facto leader of the party heading into 2024.

For Trump, fundraising has never really been an issue during his presidential campaigns, managing to raise more than $1 billion in the 2020 cycle via his and other affiliated super PAC's, according to OpenSecrets.

Some of the biggest contributors who donated to Trump's 2020 campaign include Pan Am Systems executive Timothy Mellon ($10 million), Kelcy Warren, CEO of Texas-based company Energy Transfer ($10 million) and Los Angeles real estate mogul Geoffrey Palmer ($6 million).

According to recent filings, Trump's super PAC for his 2024 campaign has already received large contributions from a number of key donors such as Mellon, banker Andy Beal and recycling mogul Anthony Lomangino.

However, Politico previously reported that some top 2020 Trump donors such as Warren, Palmer and Richard Uihlein, co-founder of the shipping giant Uline, had donated millions towards DeSantis' re-election bid for Florida governor.

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Patricia Duggan, who gave $3 million to Trump's 2020 campaign, also donated $500,000 to DeSantis after he comprehensively won his midterm election against Democrat Charlie Crist.

Major Backers

It's unclear whether these or any other top Trump 2020 donors, such as Trump's Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon, husband of former WWE boss Vince McMahon ($4.5 million), Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman ($3 million) or ABC Supply co-founder Diana Hendricks ($2 million) will go on contribute to DeSantis' 2024 campaign should he decide to run.

Sean Freeder, assistant professor of political science at the University of North Florida, said Trump may not be as affected by the loss of top donors as other presidential candidates, as his name recognition and established base means given he needs campaign money far less than other hopefuls, such as former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

"That said, abandonment by major donors is somewhat less concerning in terms of the money lost, and more in terms of the signal it sends," Freeder told Newsweek.

"That many top donors are moving towards DeSantis suggests that he will find it far harder to receive the backing of key party figures and other influential outside individuals and groups this time around."

Freeder added that the situation for Trump could become worse once DeSantis confirms his 2024 bid, and begins campaigning on a national scale himself.

"Trump's fairly large base is going to turn out to vote him in large numbers in the primary regardless of Trump's campaign finance situation – the real question is how many Trump supporters DeSantis can peel off once he decides to open his own considerable war chest for attack ads," Freeder said.

In recent months, a number of former Trump donors have confirmed they will not be backing the former president in the next election.

Support for DeSantis

Hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who gave $1 million to the pro-Trump Future45 PAC in 2018, told Bloomberg's New Economy Forum in September, that he doesn't want a "three-time loser" as the next GOP presidential candidate, while also expressing support for DeSantis. Griffin did not donate to Future45 during the 2016 or 2020 election cycles, when Trump was on the ballot, and didn't otherwise financially back Trump.

Billionaire conservative Charles Koch's network of donors, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), and the influential Club for Growth have also announced they won't back Trump in 2024.

In response, Trump reverted back to his common tactic of lashing out at those who don't support him and pushing false claims about the 2020 Election.

"The Globalist [Wall] Street Journal, in a recent article, said the Koch (missing!) 'Network,' which doesn't understand that 2020 was Rigged, and that I was 233 Wins out of 253 races in the 2022 Midterms, won't be supporting me this time around," Trump posted on Truth Social on February 9.

"THEY NEVER DID SUPPORT ME, and I don't want their support, even though David Koch was, before his passing, a very happy member of my Clubs {as are other Koch family members}. They are Globalists who want cuts to Social Security, Medicare, & worse. No Thanks....."

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