GOP megadonors look past Trump to fresh faces for 2024 presidential run

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Some major conservative campaign donors won’t be backing former President Donald Trump as he heads into the 2024 presidential election cycle.

The influential anti-tax Club for Growth is shunning Mr. Trump when it hosts a half-dozen potential Republican candidates at its donor summit in Florida next month. And the deep-pocketed Americans for Prosperity, founded by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, also made clear that the group will throw its support behind a candidate other than Mr. Trump.

“To write a new chapter for our country, we need to turn the page on the past,” Americans for Prosperity CEO Emily Seidel said in a recent memo. “So the best thing for the country would be to have a president in 2025 who represents a new chapter. The American people have shown that they’re ready to move on, and so AFP will help them do that. AFP Action is prepared to support a candidate in the Republican presidential primary who can lead our country forward, and who can win.”

Several other GOP mega-donors also have signaled they won’t back Mr. Trump in the 2024 cycle. Among them are Ken Griffin of Citadel, Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone Group Inc., billionaire Miriam Adelson and hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah. Mrs. Adelson is the widow of the late Sheldon Adelson, with whom she donated $90 million to Mr. Trump’s political action committee in 2020.

The Club for Growth has invited Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is considered the most viable likely challenger to Mr. Trump, along with former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, who is set to announce her presidential bid Wednesday; former Vice President Mike Pence; former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina; and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

None of the others besides Ms. Haley have announced candidacies.

Mr. Trump responded to the Club for Growth’s snub by saying it was no secret that he and the group had parted ways.

“The Club For NO Growth, an assemblage of political misfits, globalists, and losers, fought me incessantly and rather viciously during my presidential run in 2016,” Mr. Trump wrote in a post on Truth Social. “They said I couldn’t win, I did, and won even bigger in 2020, with millions of more votes than ‘16, but the Election was Rigged & Stollen [sic].

“They asked to get together on Endorsements of candidates, we did, and had MANY WINS & NO losses. Relationship broke up over my Endorsement of certain great people in Alabama [where Mr. Trump revoked his endorsement of Rep. Mo Brooks] & Ohio [where he endorsed Senate winner J.D. Vance]. I won them all!”

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, said Club for Growth “endorsed 24 candidates during the 2022 midterm election and lost 25% of them. On the other hand, President Trump had 233 wins out of 253 races.”

Mr. Trump is expected to return soon to Facebook, but it’s not clear whether the platform will be as lucrative in small-dollar donations for Mr. Trump as it was in his earlier campaigns. Mr. Trump’s political operation raised about $21.3 million in the final quarter of 2022. By comparison, his principal fundraising committee pulled in about $7 million in the fourth quarter of 2018.

The losses by some Trump-endorsed Senate candidates in November, such as Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Herschel Walker in Georgia, have caused hand-wringing among Republican Party leaders and donors. The effort to settle on a nominee other than Mr. Trump in 2024 is building momentum.

“Here’s the hard truth as I see it,” Ms. Seidel said in her memo. “The Republican Party is nominating bad candidates who are advocating for things that go against core American principles. And the American people are rejecting them. The Democratic Party increasingly sees this as a political opportunity. And they’re responding with more and more extreme policies – policies that also go against our core American principles. This means the country is in a downward spiral, with both parties reinforcing the bad behavior of the other. … If we want to elect better people, we need better candidates. And if we want better candidates, we’ve got to get involved in elections earlier and in more primaries.”

Americans for Prosperity didn’t back Mr. Trump in either of his previous two presidential campaigns — with the Koch network sitting on the sidelines in those nomination races — so some in Mr. Trump’s camp say the group’s decision isn’t a big loss for the former president. 

Trump ally Jason Miller tweeted with sarcasm that such ostracization of Mr. Trump “worked so well for the globalist insiders in 2016.”

But AFP and AFP Action have a broad network to help with a ground game. They participated in more than 450 races in the 2022 midterms, knocked on more than 7 million doors and sent out more than 100 million mail pieces, Ms. Seidel said.

The moves could encourage more potential candidates to enter the GOP race. But polls still show Mr. Trump leading Mr. DeSantis by double digits in a field of several hypothetical candidates for the GOP nomination.

A Morning Consult poll on the 2024 GOP presidential primary last week showed Mr. Trump with 49%, Mr. DeSantis with 31%, Mr. Pence at 7% and Ms. Haley with 3%.

A Monmouth University Poll released last week showed Mr. DeSantis ahead of Mr. Trump, 53% to 40%, in a hypothetical head-to-head match-up.

And a poll from the Club for Growth released this month showed Mr. DeSantis leading Mr. Trump in a head-to-head primary match-up, with the Florida governor receiving 49% support to Mr. Trump’s 40%.

However, Club for Growth President David McIntosh did say the group would support Mr. Trump in the 2024 general election if he is the party’s nominee.

In a column reposted by Mr. Trump, New York Sun founding director Conrad Black said Mr. DeSantis isn’t the candidate to carry forward Mr. Trump’s “America First” agenda.

“Trumpism without Mr. Trump might work with Governor DeSantis, but it’s not clear that DeSantis can win the primaries against Mr. Trump,” Mr. Black wrote. “Many presidents have promised to stop illegal immigration and move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and stand up to China, and make the NATO allies pay more, but only Mr. Trump did it all, and more.”  

He said the Democrats are “very vulnerable.”

“They can’t seriously renominate Biden; they can’t expect the voters to forgive the debacle of the present term; they won’t get out from under the woke yoke, and instead of taking the repeal of Roe v. Wade as the opportunity it is to leave abortion to the states and go after moderate opinion on the issue, they are still prattling the nonsense about Mr. Trump and the Republicans trying to stifle (mis-named) reproductive rights; (they mean contra-productive rights), and the federal Republicans are relatively quiet on the issue,” he wrote.

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