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As Trump readies possible 2024 White House run, GOP megadonors back DeSantis, Youngkin, other Republicans

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A growing group of Republican megadonors are backing a fresh crop of GOP presidential contenders for 2024 — even as Donald Trump readies his own likely bid for the White House — blaming the former U.S. president for the party’s lackluster performance in the midterms last week.

Some of the nation’s wealthiest GOP donors have been eyeing Florida’s and Virginia’s Republican governors, Ron DeSantis and Glenn Youngkin, as more rational — and more importantly, electable — candidates for the White House in 2024. Although neither man has formally announced his candidacy, they have both started to put in place the fundraising teams and infrastructure that would be necessary to explore a presidential bid.

Trump has railed against the rising GOP stars as they steal away the party’s attention, and campaign donations, further driving away some of Trump’s most loyal backers.

“I’m not going to give (Trump) a f—ing nickel,” said New York-based businessperson Andy Sabin, who donated $120,000 toward Trump’s failed 2020 reelection bid. Sabin contributed $55,000 this year to a pro-DeSantis PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis, which supported the Florida governor’s successful bid for reelection, according to state campaign finance records. And he plans to back DeSantis if he jumps into the next race for president.

Trump, meanwhile, has scheduled a primetime announcement Tuesday night, heavily hinting that it will be his presidential campaign launch. Trump’s PACs have largely relied on small-dollar donors. Save America, one of Trump’s PACs, has raised over $36 million in the 2022 election cycle from individuals who have given $200 or more, according to data from OpenSecrets.

Sabin blames Trump for the party’s poor showing on Election Day. Democrats maintained control of the Senate after a key victory by Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto, D-Nev. While Republicans are projected to pick up a few seats as well as control of the U.S. House of Representatives, it’s not by the wide margin many expected and certainly not the “red wave” Trump and others predicted.

“At the end of the day, people stayed away because of Trump,” Sabin told CNBC. At a campaign rally for Republican candidate J.D. Vance the day before he won the Ohio Senate seat last week, Trump said he planned to make a “very big announcement” on Nov. 15. That didn’t help other campaigns, Sabin said.

Trump also “endorsed candidates who were not necessarily qualified unless they said ‘I love you, Donald,'” Sabin added.

In the three-dozen elections labeled “toss-up” by Cook Political Report, Trump endorsed six Republicans. Five of them lost, according to a CNBC analysis. Trump also endorsed dozens of winning House candidates, but many of those Republicans were in firmly red districts without a serious competitor. Almost all of the Trump endorsed secretary of state and gubernatorial candidates within key swing states have lost. Many of those candidates pushed false claims about the 2020 election being stolen from Trump.

In a YouGov poll taken after the Nov. 8 election, shows that 41% of those surveyed who said they were Republican prefer DeSantis as the GOP nominee for president in 2024 to 39% who like Trump. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll shows 47% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents would support Trump. The same poll shows 33% would support DeSantis.

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, whose real estate giant Related Companies owns Equinox and SoulCycle, has told friends that he likes DeSantis and could back him if he ran for president, according to a person close to the billionaire. Ross hosted a fundraiser for Trump at his Hamptons home in 2019 to raise money for Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee. Ross gave $220,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC this year, state records show.

Ross once told The New York Times that although he “liked” Trump, he didn’t agree with a lot of his policies. “I believe there’s a lot of good, and I believe there’s a lot of bad,” Ross told the Times in 2020. A spokesperson for Related did not respond to a request for comment.

Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, who gave over $100 million in the midterms mainly toward Republicans running for state and federal races, recently told Politico that he’s prepared to back DeSantis if he runs for president. DeSantis gave $5 million to the Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC last year, state records show.

“He did a lot of things really well and missed the mark on some important areas,” Griffin told Politico when speaking of Trump. “And for a litany of reasons, I think it’s time to move on to the next generation.” During a recent Bloomberg summit, Griffin called Trump a “three-time loser” and said he hoped the former president would not run again.

Youngkin has turned to businessperson and former Trump administration official Ray Washburne to introduce the Virginia governor to key donors and political strategists as he prepares for a possible run for president, according to people familiar with the matter.

Washburne was the CEO of Overseas Private Investment Corporation during Trump’s first term in office. He’s also been a Republican political fundraiser for years, including helping raise campaign cash for Trump’s initial 2016 run for president.

Youngkin’s been tapped by the party to help other Republicans win office, campaigning earlier this month for South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who both won their bids for reelection.

Attorney and GOP fundraiser Eric Levine emailed an essay to Republican allies on Saturday, actively campaigning against a potential nominee. Levine previously told CNBC that some big donors have told him they’re concerned Trump is the one candidate who could lose to President Joe Biden in a rematch in 2024. While Levine didn’t personally donate to Trump’s races, he helped raise campaign cash for several other candidates Trump endorsed in the last cycle.

Levine said the “Republican presidential bench” was filled with a roster of people he says would have a better chance than Trump to win in 2024 including DeSantis, Youngkin, former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

“I will work very hard with like-minded Republicans to make sure he is not our nominee in 2024 because I want to win!  Embracing Trump is not a winning a strategy,” Levine said in the essay. “If this election showed us anything, it showed we cannot win the Trump base alone. We need independents, suburban women, and moderate Democrats if we want to win and govern effectively. These are the groups most repulsed by Trump. Time for a reality check. Time to put our Party and country ahead of the cult of Trump.”