Although many donors are focused on November, when the governor is up for reelection, DeSantis’ fundraising signals that he’s both a viable 2024 candidate who may not need government support. former president and one who undermines some of Trump’s financial support.
“I think Ron’s fundraising really speaks for itself,” said Francis Rooney, a former construction company owner, longtime Republican donor and former Florida congressman who was open to the idea. impeachment of Trump in 2019. “It’s possible that Trump’s percentage among Republicans will continue to drop and I think it’s possible that people will start looking elsewhere.
DeSantis has already raised more than $100 million — a record pace for a single Florida election cycle — and is an overwhelming favorite to seek re-election this year, a victory that could leave him with a huge war chest at the start of Florida’s election cycle. 2024.
DeSantis has long been expected to run for president in 2024, but over the past year he has dramatically expanded his national footprint and following among conservatives across the country, who have been drawn to his Covid-19 anti-closure policies and its firm opposition to the pandemic. warrants. He recently started running neck and neck with Trump or even beat the former president in mock polls early 2024leaving some of the GOP’s biggest donors writing huge checks for DeSantis at a time when it could still carry political risk.
“I know a lot of donors who are kind of in a wait-and-see mode,” said Shiree Verdone, who served as Trump’s Arizona campaign co-chair for both of his presidential campaigns. “They really, really like DeSantis, who’s very popular, but you don’t want to upset Trump.”
Major Trump donors who have contributed to DeSantis since his 2018 gubernatorial campaign include William Buckley, a retired venture capitalist with a home in Lost Tree Village – a wealthy enclave in Palm Beach County that is home to some of the largest political donors in the country. Buckley donated $1 million. Top GOP donor Richard Uihlein, an Illinois-based businessman who backed DeSantis in 2018, gave the governor $700,000 four years ago. He and his wife, Elizabeth, donated $1.2 million in 2022.
Since his first gubernatorial campaign, DeSantis’ committee has also received $500,000 from Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus — double what he gave DeSantis in 2018 — and $100,000 each from Steven Witkoff, a real estate investor, and Willis Johnson, a billionaire from Tennessee who founded a car auction and salvage company. Neither had previously given significantly to a Florida candidate.
Las Vegas casino magnate and Trump friend Phil Ruffin also gave DeSantis $100,000 this cycle, double what he gave the governor four years ago.
Johnson supports DeSantis financially, but has also signaled support for other potential Republican candidates for 2024, including South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. He funded Noem’s effort to send 50 South Dakota National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, which several Republican governors, including DeSantis, have done in the past year to try to shine a light on border policies. of the Biden administration.
John North, chief financial officer of Copart, the company Johnson founded, said Johnson “is not interested” in discussing his support for Trump or his political contributions.
Trump’s team, as it has done in the past, brushed aside any suggestion that his top donors giving DeSantis heavily indicate they would not support any future Trump run for the White House.
“Like other candidates who have been propelled to victory by the endorsement of President Trump, Governor DeSantis is part of a large group of elected officials across the country who continue to benefit from President Trump’s MAGA movement.” , said Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich.
Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis four years ago via a Tweet helped make him governor of Florida in 2018.
DeSantis’ campaign did not return a request for comment.
Texas oil baron Kelcy Warren, who spent $10 million supporting Trump in 2020, also gave DeSantis $50,000, his first contribution to the governor. Another $35,000 came from Larry Garatoni, an Indiana businessman who gave $500,000 to support Trump and never gave to DeSantis, and Geoffrey Palmer, a developer from Los Angeles, donated $20,000 to DeSantis this cycle. He spent $6 million in 2020 to help Trump’s re-election.
Jeff Yass, a billionaire from Pennsylvania, also gave DeSantis $100,000 this cycle compared to $3,000 in 2018. Yass is not a Trump donor, but has given millions to Republican causes in recent election cycles, including more than $20 million in 2020 to the Growth Club. , a conservative group whose vice president for government affairs is Scott Parkinson, who was DeSantis’ chief of staff when he was in Congress.
“Mostly occupied by the Celtics-Warriors,” Yass said over email, referring to the NBA Finals, when POLITICO asked about his support for DeSantis.
The Florida governor also enjoys huge political support from GOP mega-donors who have said they will not support Trump in the future, including Ken Griffin, the billionaire founder of Chicago-based Citadel LLC. He was one of DeSantis’ biggest benefactors, donating $5 million in the 2018 and 2022 election cycles. He did not contribute to Trump in 2020 and has publicly stated that he would not support him to go. forward.
Likewise, Rooney — who was President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the Holy See and decided not to run for re-election to Congress after publicly saying he was open to supporting Trump’s first impeachment – also suggested that Trump was facing headwinds.
“The guy is so mercurial,” Rooney said of Trump. “And there’s so much going around, from lawsuits to January 6 stuff. If the primary was today, Trump gets it, but I think his popularity is down.
There are mega-Republican donors who love DeSantis as he climbs the national Republican ranks, but warn that it’s very early in the 2024 election cycle and candidates who peaked too soon have spat before they really take off. .
“As far as Governor DeSantis is concerned, I have met him and followed his career,” said Art Pope, a North Carolina businessman who has long been a huge Republican donor but has not given to Trump. “He has excellent qualifications to be president, including serving in the U.S. military, in Congress, and as a governor. His handling of Florida during the pandemic has been very strong.
Pope, who also chairs the influential Bradley Foundation, which helps fund right-wing nonprofits across the country, said DeSantis has momentum, but Republicans have a long list of potential candidates for 2024 which are still very present.
“I think very strongly of Mike Pence. He was chairman of the Republican study committee, governor of Indiana and, obviously, vice-president of the United States,” Pope said. “He was one of the points strengths of the Trump administration.”
“He followed his constitutional duty,” Pope said, referring to Pence’s opposition to the cancellation of the 2020 election.
He also mentioned potential candidates for 2024 like Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, and Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.
He noted, edifyingly, that at one point in 2008, Rudy Giuliani was considered a presidential frontrunner.
“There’s a story of people who can leap forward, raise a lot of money, succeed in some of the early polls, but eventually fade,” he said.
He noted that DeSantis had an advantage because being a sitting governor gave him a big platform, but said there was still plenty of Republican money on the ice.
“Right now there’s a lot of cash on the sidelines because we’re still in 2022, not 2024,” he said. “I get phone calls about the presidential race, but that’s not my main focus right now.”