Why Republican donors on Wall Street are abandoning Donald Trump

WALL STREET is turning its back on Donald Trump. In recent days financiers who had donated hundreds of millions to the Republican Party have publicly withdrawn their support for the former president. On November 16th Stephen Schwarzman, chief executive of Blackstone, a private-equity company, said he would back someone from a “new generation” of Republicans in 2024. The same day Thomas Peterffy, founder and chairman of Interactive Brokers, said the party needed a “fresh face.” Ken Griffin, chief executive of Citadel, a hedge fund, was bluntest. On November 15th he branded Mr Trump a “three-time loser” and announced his support for Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida. Why are donors deserting the former president—and how much will it matter?

The party’s lukewarm performance in the midterm elections on November 8th is an important factor. Republican donors blame Mr Trump for the failure of a widely expected “red wave” to materialise. The party took the House of Representatives by only a wafer-thin margin, and failed to regain the Senate after candidates Mr Trump had back lost important races in Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Nor was it the first time the former president had stumbled. Besides losing the presidency in 2020, the Republicans also lost the Senate in 2021 (after a run-off election in Georgia) and the House in 2018—hence Mr Griffin’s epithet for Mr Trump.

Wall Street moneymen and Mr Trump always had a marriage of convenience, says Reed Galen, a former Republican strategist. Although they sometimes found Mr Trump’s rhetoric off-putting, they believed pro-Wall Street Republicans would be elected to Congress on his coat-tails. That largely paid off—but many financiers now fret that Mr Trump’s anti-trade and anti-immigrant populism has bolstered the party’s business-skeptical wing. For it is not just Mr Trump who shuns Reaganite free-market capitalism these days. Mr DeSantis and JD Vance, the Trump-backed senator-elect from Ohio, have waged culture wars against Disney and big tech.

Still, being shunned by Wall Street may not have a decisive impact on the former president’s bid for re-election in 2024. Many financiers favor Democratic presidential candidates anyway, in part because their industry is concentrated in deep-blue cities, primarily New York. And Mr Trump has triumphed without financiers’ cash before. During the Republican primary in 2016 he got no cash from Mr Griffin or Mr Schwarzman, nor from most other big GOP donors. By February that year, Mr Trump had spent only $10m on television ads. Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas, spent twice that sum; Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida, spent more than eight times as much. Mr Trump turned his campaign’s financial woes into a populist badge of honor, promising to end pay-to-play politics and attacking Mr Bush for answering to “special interests.” He rode to victory over the back of a loyal army of small-sum donors. His unpredictability fueled media coverage: that was, in effect, free advertising.

Mr Trump has already amassed a warchest of around $100m to fight the 2024 primary. He is still hugely popular with the Republican base. His chosen candidates won 91% of open primary races for the midterms, and four out of ten Trump-backed challengers toppled incumbent Republicans. Though donors may be getting cold feet after the midterms, his popularity will make some reluctant to endorse another candidate. Despite Wall Street’s reservations, it is still Mr Trump’s primary election to lose.

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