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The Republican Party’s Biggest Donors Dodged Trump in 2023

Expect the big donors to focus on the House and Senate, a fundraiser told NOTUS.

Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump did not see support from the GOP’s top donors. Godofredo A. Vásquez/AP

Donald Trump has recently become fixated on his party’s biggest donors. Those donors don’t yet appear to be fixated on him.

All but a small few of the leading Republican megadonors steered clear of giving to Trump in 2023, as Trump’s primary challengers jockeyed for the attention of GOP voters. Of the 10 biggest Republican donors during the 2022 midterms, two gave to the main super PAC backing Trump between July and December of last year, a NOTUS analysis of new campaign finance filings found.

Several of the GOP’s biggest donors opted to test the waters with other candidates during the months leading up to the Iowa caucuses, before the former president notched decisive victories that put him on the path to becoming the party’s third-time nominee.

Richard Uihlein and his wife, Elizabeth, were the biggest super PAC donors of the 2022 midterms and have given millions to Trump in the past. Last year they gave Trump a pass: The Uihleins instead poured $3 million into pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down.

Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, once one of Trump’s biggest donors who at one point chatted with the former president multiple times a week, quietly tipped $2 million into a pro-Chris Christie super PAC last year.

And hedge fund magnate Paul Singer opted to give millions to super PACs supporting Republicans in the House and Senate — an approach that other donors may take in the months ahead.

The collective cold shoulder is nothing new for Trump. The former president struggled to lock down support from the Republican establishment during his 2016 bid for office and has had a hot-and-cold relationship with many major donors since. Often, it hasn’t mattered: Trump is buoyed by a legion of grassroots supporters willing to buy MAGA hats and donate to his campaigns, and he has corralled a circle of ardent big-money fans who give to his reelection super PACs too.

Trump doesn’t necessarily need the support of people like Schwarzman and Citadel founder and CEO Ken Griffin, but the former president has often wanted it.

Last week, Trump unleashed a threat to wealthy supporters of Nikki Haley on the social media platform Truth Social, warning he wouldn’t accept Haley’s donors back into the fold if she leaves the race.

“When I ran for Office and won, I noticed that the losing Candidate’s ‘Donors’ would immediately come to me, and want to ‘help out.’ This is standard in Politics, but no longer with me,” Trump wrote. “Anybody that makes a ‘Contribution’ to Birdbrain [Haley], from this moment forth, will be permanently barred from the MAGA camp. We don’t want them, and will not accept them, because we Put America First, and ALWAYS WILL!”

Behind the scenes, one of Trump’s top campaign officials spoke this week to a room of wealthy donors — a number of whom have given money to Haley, or at least considered it.

Susie Wiles addressed a gathering of the American Opportunity Alliance, a donor network affiliated with billionaire Singer, in Palm Beach. Singer has given Trump tepid support at best in years past and donated $5 million to a pro-Haley super PAC in December. The gathering represented an inflection point at a moment when some donors are considering whether to revert to supporting Trump or sit out the general election entirely after failed attempts to help prop up his rivals.

“Donors — at least on the presidential side — are seeing the inevitability of Trump,” one prominent Republican fundraiser told NOTUS. “They’re waiting to see how Haley does in South Carolina as a test.” Absent the unlikely event of Haley winning, the fundraiser said, “you’ll see a focus on the House and Senate from major funders.”

Griffin was open this week about his plans to bypass supporting Trump this year in favor of helping down-ballot candidates. Haley is a “tremendous” candidate but has a narrow path to victory after her distant second-place finish in New Hampshire, Griffin said at a conference in Miami.

But “just because we can struggle with who our choice for president is doesn’t mean that we have to walk away from the field,” Griffin said. He heaped praise during the conference on Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dave McCormick. “I’m going to be very involved in the variety of the Senate races and House races,” Griffin said. He has already given millions of dollars to such causes.

Trump’s campaign reported this week it had raised $19 million during the last three months of 2023, less than the $33 million President Joe Biden raised during that time.

A super PAC backing Trump pulled in $46 million, much of it from die-hard backers of the former president: Linda McMahon, a longtime Trump donor and Trump-era administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, gave $5.25 million to the PAC in November and December. California-based real estate magnate Geoffrey Palmer gave $1 million.

Trump also raised $10 million from Timothy Mellon, an heir to the Mellon family fortune who also donated millions to Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential bid.

Despite skepticism, many donors have come around to support Trump in past elections once he clenches the nomination, noted Rick Wilson, co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project.

“I’ve got a pretty good command of the English language, and I can’t even express the degree to which the Paul Singers of the world absolutely hate this guy,” Wilson said. “But you have to take Trump seriously, and literally, when he says things like, ‘I’m going to punish people who oppose me.’”

Maggie Severns is a reporter at NOTUS.