Key GOP Megadonor Network Will Hear Pitches From DeSantis and Haley Camps

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A network of megadonors whose biggest members have stayed on the sidelines in the Republican presidential primary will meet next month in Dallas, as advisers to two of the candidates hoping to defeat Donald Trump will make one of their last pitches for support, according to two people briefed on the matter.

The multiday event will feature advisers to Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, according to the two people. It will be hosted by Harlan Crow, the wealthy real estate developer who backs Republicans and who has recently drawn attention for his friendship with and financial ties to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Crow is hosting a separate fundraiser for Haley next week, according to Bloomberg News.

The donor network, known as the American Opportunity Alliance, was founded a decade ago by a group of billionaires, including hedge fund executive Paul Singer; Kenneth Griffin, another prominent investor; and members of the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs.

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Some of its members have been known to be seeking options other than Trump. Griffin, in particular, has been vocal about how he is still assessing the field, despite his past support for DeSantis in his reelection effort as governor. Griffin, who has said he wants the GOP to move on from Trump, bluntly told CNBC recently about DeSantis, “It’s not clear to me what voter base he is intending to appeal to.”

The gathering next month comes as a number of top Republican donors are increasingly concerned that a divided Republican primary — even just through the early states — will almost unavoidably lead to Trump’s renomination.

The group does not move in unison, and the meeting is in some ways a final effort for some donors to see if contributing to any candidate — either DeSantis or Haley — remains a worthwhile investment, given Trump’s commanding lead in the polls and his penchant for vengeance against those who cross him.

The meeting is also a chance for the donors to assess whether backing one of the candidates could help winnow down the field before the Iowa caucuses, giving either Haley or DeSantis a greater chance to defeat Trump.

Aides to other well-known candidates did not receive invitations to the event, according to a person familiar with the planning.

There are members of the network attending who already support either Haley or DeSantis. Underscoring the complicated nature of the current intraparty feud is the expected attendance at the event of Brooke Rollins, a former Trump administration adviser who leads the America First Policy Institute, and Linda McMahon, another former Trump appointee and close friend of the former president, according to one of the people familiar with the event.

The circumstances of the meeting reflect the reality of the current race: Trump leads by enough that he has skipped the first two primary debates and called for the Republican National Committee to cancel the remaining calendar and unite behind him.

One Republican strategist who works with the group and who was not authorized to speak publicly said bluntly of the gathering that the priority was beating President Joe Biden next November — not the ongoing Republican primary. The person said the campaign teams will have the opportunity to lay out — and try to sell — their paths to victory. The person added that Trump’s path to victory, meanwhile, was “straightforward.”

DeSantis and Haley are among the leading Republicans seeking to stop Trump but remain far behind in the polls.

DeSantis has been Trump’s top rival for the entirety of 2023, but for months, he has lost ground to the former president while seeing other candidates make gains. He has been increasingly banking his candidacy on a superlative showing in Iowa, the first state that will vote. DeSantis has also upset some of the American Opportunity Alliance network donors with his comments minimizing the Russian incursion into Ukraine as a geopolitical concern for the United States.

For Haley’s team, simply being given equal billing with DeSantis at a crucial donor meeting is a success of sorts, as the former United Nations ambassador has converted two solid debates into momentum and money.

The steepness of the task of stopping Trump was underscored by a memo this week from a group, Win It Back PAC, that has spent millions of dollars trying to soften Trump’s support in Iowa.

“All attempts to undermine his conservative credentials on specific issues were ineffective,” read the memo, which was written by David McIntosh, who also leads the Club for Growth, a conservative anti-tax group.

The memo described why the group’s ads — testimonials from past Trump supporters — tackled few policy disagreements and focused more on his perceived electoral weaknesses.

“Even when you show video to Republican primary voters — with complete context — of President Trump saying something otherwise objectionable to primary voters, they find a way to rationalize and dismiss it,” McIntosh wrote.

The group has spent essentially no money on television since the start of September, according to data from the media-tracking firm AdImpact.

Sarah Longwell, a strategist who oversees a suite of anti-Trump groups, including the Republican Accountability PAC, which spent more than $750,000 on ads over the summer, said she has put her group’s spending entirely on pause in the primary — because Trump now appears so certain to win.

“It’s pretty simple,” Longwell said. “We don’t see a path right now for somebody else. If it was close, if there was an actual alternative we thought could go somewhere or was running an effective campaign against Trump, we would continue.”

Her group, she said, would oppose Trump in the general election and was saving its resources for that fight. “You can’t beat something with nothing,” she said of the primary.

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