Some major Republican donors who have spent much of 2023 looking for a Donald Trump alternative are increasingly open to one 2024 candidate: Donald Trump.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Donald Trump will be the nominee of our party,” said Ed Broyhill, a longtime GOP donor who was Trump’s North Carolina finance chairman in 2020. “The grassroots are a solid foundation for Donald Trump.”
Earlier this year, Broyhill was considering supporting other candidates, like Florida Gov. or former Vice President . But he is now firmly a Trump supporter.
“I have met with all the candidates,” he said. “None are close to the level of support Trump has.”
Broyhill is part of a notable slice of donors who helped fund Trump’s first two presidential campaigns but were, for various reasons, at least considering alternatives in the 2024 primaries. However, members of the group have started to once again write checks for Trump in recent months.
Among the biggest names on the list: Oklahoma oil and natural gas magnate Harold Hamm, who before having a falling out with Trump was once considered one of his top advisers on energy policy. Hamm previously contributed to former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, and he co-hosted an Oklahoma City fundraiser for DeSantis this year.
Kristin Thomas, the chief communications officer at Hamm’s Continental Resources, said his more recent contribution to Trump shouldn’t be seen as a shift in his position.
“He has supported a wide slate of candidates that he believes would make a good president,” Thomas said. She added that “nothing has changed.”
South Carolina hedge fund manager Scott Bessent, a past Trump supporter, gave to Pence and Sen. of South Carolina this year before he cut Trump a check last month, Federal Election Commission records show. And Susan and Howard Groff, who were among Trump’s biggest California donors in 2020, gave to DeSantis, Pence and Scott this year before they wrote a check to Trump in late August.
Trump’s few wealthy allies left in the business community have been working the phones and having meetings with distanced donors about coming back into the fold. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and those close to him have been among the Trump allies lobbying those once-loyal donors, CNBC reported last month.
Among the latest targets of Johnson’s allies is Trump administration Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who, according to a person familiar with the event, recently hosted a fundraiser in the Hamptons in New York for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whom Trump has criticized in the past. Ross has hinted to friends that he could get more involved with the presidential election in the coming months, with Trump allies hoping he ends up helping Trump again, like he did during the 2016 presidential election, as The New York Times reported.
A person close to Trump said that “top business leaders and big money donors have now resigned themselves to Trump as the nominee” and will come home — but thought their support won’t begin in earnest until after Trump starts winning some primary contests.
The movement doesn’t mean the anti-Trump donor crowd has completely broken in favor of him: Just this month a group of major anti-Trump GOP donors, collectively known as the American Opportunity Alliance, summoned DeSantis, Haley and Scott to a gathering in Dallas, where they pitched themselves as the best Trump alternatives to secure the donors’ financial support.
It’s unclear whether any of those pitches moved the needle with the donor group or whether it would dent Trump’s polling lead if they did. But what is notable about the moment is how it’s demonstrating how open some Trump-skeptical donors are to once again raising money for him, according to interviews with donors and a review of campaign finance records.
The change in money flow is motivated, in part, by Republicans’ continued anger at President Joe Biden’s economic policies and how he has responded to the terrorist attacks in Israel. Ultimately, though, it is underpinned by one unflinching instinct: They want the White House back, and they think Trump is going to be the nominee.
“Why? It is easy, I want to win,” said a GOP donor who has been a significant Trump supporter in the past but was looking at supporting other candidates, including DeSantis and Scott. The donor has been watching the polls as GOP voters stick with Trump. “They are moving back to President Trump, and I want to win.”
The person, who said a motivating factor for seeking a Trump alternative is his legal troubles, has since moved past that heartburn in part because of what they see as an underperforming Republican field.
A policy adviser to Republican donors said some had entered the 2024 presidential cycle cautiously. Instead of committing to Trump early, they had their family offices meet with a variety of candidates.
But the source said a shift had taken hold. “They have realized it is Trump or bust,” he said.
Andrew Romeo, a spokesperson for DeSantis’ campaign, said Trump is on the hunt for donor help because DeSantis is pushing him in Iowa and Nevada.
“Unlike others, we’re playing to beat Donald Trump and have the resources and organization to do it,” Romeo said. “That’s why the former president is scrambling to counter the inroads the governor is making in the early states — especially Iowa.”
The 2024 financial picture
No single donor will be decisive in a presidential race awash with money. But Trump has already been outperforming his rivals financially, primarily thanks to better small-donor support.
He raised $24.5 million from July through September, besting second-place DeSantis, whose campaign raised $11.2 million. During the same three-month fundraising period, Haley’s campaign raised $8.2 million, while Scott’s raised $4.6 million.
Trump has $36 million in campaign cash on hand to spend on the primaries, his campaign said, while Scott finished the third quarter with $11.6 million available, Haley had $9.1 million, and DeSantis had $5 million on hand for the primaries.
Buried in the quarterly reports are the names of significant Republican donors who months earlier were writing checks to Trump’s primary opponents, most notably DeSantis, the next-strongest fundraiser. Over the past three months, nearly two dozen donors who had previously given at least $1,000 to DeSantis started writing checks for Trump, including people with longtime reputations as significant GOP rainmakers.
The movement among donors checking out the 2024 field isn’t one-way. Since May, roughly a dozen donors who had contributed to Trump also gave money to DeSantis, though those contributors tended to be smaller donors.
Not all of them, however: Take telecommunications mogul Kenny Troutt and businessman Doug Deason, both major GOP donors from Texas who have supported Trump in the past. They have each contributed to both DeSantis and Trump this election cycle, but their most recent contributions have gone to DeSantis. Both also hosted fundraisers for DeSantis this year.
The campaign finance reports made public this month include only contributions directly to campaigns, which are capped at $3,300 per election, so it’s unclear whether the donors have recently written much larger checks to outside super PACs. The super PACs backing the presidential candidates don’t have to file reports covering the second half of 2023 until Jan. 31.
Ed McMullen, who was the Trump administration’s ambassador to Switzerland and is raising money for his campaign, said he is starting to get more phone calls from donors who want Trump to know they are back on board.
“Absolutely, multiple donors who were very large contributors — I’m talking DeSantis supporters and Haley supporters — are coming around,” he said. “Overwhelmingly, they are savvy donors who are smart, wealthy people. They have concluded that putting money into this primary is a waste of money.”
A longtime DeSantis donor, asked whether they are now likely to support Trump, said: “I have for sure. A lot of traditional money is beginning to move to Trump.”
The reality of the situation was clearly outlined in a memo crafted this month by Rob Collins, a co-chair of Trust in the Mission PAC, a pro-Scott super PAC. The group canceled millions of dollars in TV ad reservations and cited one reason: Trump’s massive lead.
“We aren’t going to waste our money when the electorate isn’t focused or ready for a Trump alternative,” the memo read. “We have done the research. We have studied the focus groups. We have been following Tim on the trail. This electorate is locked up and money spent on mass media isn’t going to change minds until we get a lot closer to voting.”
That sense was felt firsthand by one of the major donors who was considering a Trump alternative earlier in the election cycle when attending the first GOP presidential primary debate in Milwaukee.
“When we were in the SUV from the airport, the driver turned to us and said, ‘It’s nice you brought your son, but you know the big guy isn’t here?’” the person said. “I knew what he meant.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com
Evan Massoud is a political analyst with a knack for dissecting policy and governance. He provides readers with informed perspectives on political developments at home and abroad. Evan’s dedication to civic engagement extends to volunteering in local politics.