Do Major Donors Still Support MAGA Candidates?

published on 21 February 2023

In early February, a memo was released by CEO of Americans for Prosperity, Emily Seidel, stating that they would be supporting a Republican candidate other than Donald Trump. Americans for Prosperity is the leading political arm of billionaire Charles Koch’s network of conservative organizations. In the memo, Seidel wrote that "The best thing for the country would be to have a president in 2025 who represents a new chapter" and that the American people have proven they’re ready to “move on.” This is likely in reference to the disappointing midterm results, which some Republicans blame Trump for – as his endorsements were massively influential in the primaries, but his endorsed candidates didn’t fair particularly well in the general election.

The Koch network joins Club for Growth, an anti-tax conservative group, in breaking from President Trump, who started a feud with the Club during the midterm election cycle as a result of them endorsing opposing candidates. The support of the Koch network shouldn’t be understated – they are incredibly influential and pour tens of millions of dollars into elections. Americans for Prosperity alone spent $69.4 million throughout the 2022 cycle. Kenneth Griffin, another hedge-fund billionaire kingmaker within the GOP has publicly stated that he’ll be supporting Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida in 2024. With some of the biggest donors in the Republican Party already moving away from Trump, it’s worth asking if major donors in general still support “MAGA” candidates, or if the movement is dead.

Trump’s Impact on the Midterms

During the primaries, over 90% of Trump endorsed candidates won their election. He was a considered a ‘kingmaker’ going into the general election – Republicans desperately sought his endorsement, thinking it was necessary in order to win. Based on the success of his endorsed candidates during the primaries, there was certainly reason to believe this was the case heading into the general. But on November 8th, the highly anticipated “red wave” simply didn’t happen. It was hardly even a red ripple. Republicans underperformed across the country, with Florida and New York being the only real outliers (which can likely be attributed to strong gubernatorial candidates at the top of the ballot).

Trump endorsed a total of 257 candidates across all levels of government ahead of the Election Day. Only 41 of those races were considered battleground congressional or gubernatorial races (either toss-ups, or lean/tilt Democrat or Republican). The Trump-endorsed candidates won a mere 16 of those 41 races. No one can deny that Trump’s endorsement was powerful ahead of the primary elections, but clearly, he wasn’t much of a kingmaker when it came to the general.

The list below is a breakdown of Trump-endorsed candidates by election outcome in gubernatorial and congressional races.

Senate races

Total endorsed: 25 Won: 17 Battleground race endorsements: 8 Battleground race victories: 3

House races

Total endorsed: 162 Won: 150 Battleground race endorsements: 23 Battleground race victories: 10 ****

Gubernatorial races

Total endorsed: 21 Won: 10 Battleground race endorsements: 10 Battleground race victories: 3

Indications that Major Donors are Done with MAGA

Americans for Prosperity supported 22 federal candidates during the 2022 midterms. 80% of those candidates won their races. Though they weren’t involved in as many races as Trump was, their record is far superior, lending some credence to their case that Trump shouldn’t be the Republican nominee in 2024.

Another libertarian-leaning conservative organization, Club for Growth, has been attacked by Trump, despite them having a fairly close relationship in the past. The club and Trump supported opposing candidates in a few key Senate races in 2022, angering the former president. Trump has continuously attacked them on social media, calling them “RINOs” and “globalists”, despite the club being highly regarded by most conservatives, who overwhelmingly share the anti-tax mindset that Club for Growth is founded upon. The club has invited several potential 2024 Republican candidates to a donor summit in March, including Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley (who recently announced her candidacy), Mike Pompeo, and Glenn Youngkin. They specifically excluded Trump from the summit.

Despite Trump's favorability among a large chunk of Republican voters, backing from major GOP donors is critical, and without their support, Trump's odds of winning the Republican primary become slimmer. Kenneth Griffin, another billionaire major donor, has called Trump a “three-time loser” (regarding his popular vote history), and announced that he will be supporting Ron DeSantis in 2024. Americans for Prosperity have announced they will decide which Republican to support by the end of the summer.

It seems that the biggest Republican donors are all on the same page in moving on from Trump. Will smaller major donors follow in their footsteps? And will proximity to Trump be as sought after in 2024 as it was during the primary season, or will it be seen as a kiss of death (which it seemingly was in the general election)? As it stands, the signs point to the latter, and that Americans are done with MAGA and ready for someone else to lead the Republican Party – not because the party has shifted in policy positions, but because of the candidate, his movement, and its perceived toxicity to the party.

Major Donor Sentiment Survey

At Trailmapper, we run an ongoing sentiment survey to gauge major donors attitudes, opinions, and perspectives on a number of topics, including their 2024 POTUS Primary preference. Our January survey reveals a significant shift in candidate preference, with a sizable portion of major donors expressing their support for Governor Ron DeSantis over the field, including former President Donald Trump. This is a big swing from the results collected in August 2022 (prior to the 2022 Midterm Elections) where Governor Ron DeSantis registered only 31% compared to former President Donald Trump's 54%. 

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