Are Big GOP Donors Abandoning Trump and Flocking to DeSantis?

It seems as if top-tier GOP donors are abandoning Donald Trump and flocking towards Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as he is teeing up a Presidential Run for 2024.

The often controversial Governor has clearly positioned himself as the face of GOP opposition to anti-Covid-19 mandates — a position that is winning over not only rank-and-file voters ahead of the 2024 presidential primaries but, apparently, also some of the Republican Party’s wealthiest donors.

How the 2024 race actually shapes up will first and foremost be determined by whether former President Donald Trump decides to run. But many donors are investing early in potential candidates like DeSantis, who polling shows to be the Number One Trump alternative in the prospective GOP presidential field. Campaign finance records covering the first seven months of this year showed that prominent contributors, including many beyond Florida, are investing in his 2022 Gubernatorial re-election campaign — which could further solidify his prospects.

Writing a check now is a low-risk way to get into DeSantis’ circle early, an investment if he runs for president and wins the nomination. Unlike the potential presidential candidates who serve in Congress and can accept only relatively small donations, DeSantis is allowed to get unlimited checks from donors under Florida law.

Ken Griffin, the GOP megadonor and billionaire founder of the hedge fund Citadel, donated $5 million to DeSantis’ campaign in April — the largest donation he has received this year. DeSantis also raked in $500,000 in May from WeatherTech founder David MacNeil, $250,000 in March from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and $250,000 in February from former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner who moved to Florida after he lost re-election. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, an ambassador in the Trump administration, also donated.

There have been other Trump administration officials who are throwing their weight and pocketbooks behind DeSantis as well. Former ambassadors Jamie McCourt and Kelly Craft and ex-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross donated $10,000 to $50,000.

Nick Iarossi, a Tallahassee lobbyist and DeSantis fundraiser said DeSantis is also raising plenty of small-dollar donations from across the country.

“The country is very divided right now on how to approach COVID, on how to approach Afghanistan, on the border crisis and illegal immigration,” Iarossi said. “The country is very, very split. I think a lot of folks feel like they’re being spoon-fed one side through the media and through the Washington, D.C., political class. And the only guy that’s really standing up to give that opposing view and give the other side a voice is Ron DeSantis.”

Among DeSantis’ other top donors are St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., Los Angeles Chargers owner Dean Spanos, Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan, UFC President Dana White, Jimmy John’s founder Jimmy John Liautaud, Jack Link’s CEO Troy Link, and disgraced Papa John’s founder John Schnatter. Each has donated $5,000 to $100,000 this year.

Despite his coffers being filled for a potential 2024 presidential bid, DeSantis still has to re-take the Governorship in 2022, and his people say that is his current focus. Like many politicians before him, he is downplaying his ambitions and insisting that he is focused solely on his state.

“I think he’s totally focused on Florida. He’s totally focused on his election for next year,” said former Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Pa., an ally from their time in the House. “And anything beyond that is just raw speculation.”

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