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Apr 27, 2023, 1:58pm EDT
businesspolitics

Wall Street presidential donors keep changing their mind

Biden
Reuters/Leah Millis
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The News

A potential rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump has energized Wall Street’s Democratic donors, some of whom are set to meet the president Friday in Washington to hear about his reelection campaign.

Others who were invited but unable to attend said organizers were relieved because they had already received so many RSVPs. One attendee told Semafor he planned to cut a $50,000 check on the spot, and another who couldn’t be there said he would make a sizable donation anyway.

Biden’s popularity with Wall Street Democrats waned as his appointees in antitrust and securities regulation cracked down. Some donors hoped Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would become more of a centrist, but his fight with Disney has disappointed them. And now that a showdown with Trump appears likely, they are coming back.

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Republican donors, including some who had initially backed DeSantis, are recalibrating in light of Trump’s surge in recent polls. Reuters also reported that tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who gave Trump $1.25 million in 2016 and was active in the 2022 midterms, plans to sit out the 2024 election.

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Know More

Poor polling numbers and issues like a six-week abortion ban have cost DeSantis support from some billionaires such as Richard Uihlein and Thomas Peterffy.

Last week, a person close to Republican mega-donor Ken Griffin told Semafor he still believed DeSantis would be a good candidate for president, but said Wednesday the billionaire is evaluating other non-Trump candidates. (The New York Times first reported Griffin’s evolving view.)

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Wall Street donors are also watching two other possible candidates, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, a former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, and ex-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Youngkin, who had paused his consideration of a 2024 presidential run, picked up one of DeSantis’s ex-supporters in Peterffy, who gave $1 million to Youngkin’s PAC, according to Politico. One Democratic donor on Wall Street said a Youngkin campaign could cut into Biden’s fundraising haul.

Christie, meanwhile, said at a recent Semafor event he’s strongly considering getting into the GOP primary race. He lost to Trump in the 2016 primary, and counts billionaire hedge-fund founder Steve Cohen as a friend and past supporter.

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Bradley’s view

Call it the Trump effect. When I spoke with Wall Street supporters of the sitting president last month, there was little urgency and a fair amount of DeSantis curiosity.

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But the Florida governor’s relentless focus on culture-war issues — notably, his escalating fight with Disney — has turned off moderate New Yorkers. And Trump’s steady rise in polls gives Biden’s Wall Street bundlers a bogeyman to solicit money.

As one Biden fundraiser told me, he was impressed with the number of people in his orbit who “stepped up” in 2020, writing checks for tens of thousands of dollars when they’d mostly sat on the sidelines in years past. The unifier was Trump and that gives the Biden campaign a roadmap for another huge warchest for 2024.

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Room for Disagreement

The money may not matter. When Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, he was outraised two-to-one by the former Secretary of State, whose campaign and affiliated PACs brought in close to $90 million from bankers and investment managers, according to OpenSecrets.

Trump succeeded despite the money disadvantage, in part, because of Clinton’s unpopularity as a candidate. Biden, while regaining his touch with donors, is also not a favorite of voters — 70% of respondents in a recent NBC poll said he shouldn’t run again for president.

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Notable

  • Trump picked up an endorsement from Steve Daines, the Republican senator from Montana leading the GOP’s Senate strategy in 2024 who is also close to large donors.
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