Republican megadonors are backing MAGA candidates— even if they don’t like Trump

Longtime donors who don’t love Trump are still embracing the far right — with their money.

Some of the biggest Republican megadonors don’t support former president Donald Trump — but have wound up supporting his candidates.

Ken Griffin, the founder of hedge fund Citadel and currently the third-biggest donor to the 2022 midterms, is a business leader and repeat critic of Trump. Earlier this year, he publicly called on Republicans to abandon the idea that the election was stolen, saying, “It’s really important that we end the rhetoric in America that elections can be rigged.” He maintains the Republican Party should “move on” from Trump in 2024.

Across the country, candidates like Masters, Thiel and Oz are benefiting from megadonors who support them in the name of advancing bread-and-butter Republican priorities like spending cuts and school choice. Griffin, who has dramatically ramped up his political spending in recent years, has cited curbing crime and improving the education system as his political north stars, for example — but the $68 million in donations he’s made to federal candidates this year will nonetheless help further the movement built by Trump.

Asked about the money donated to election-denying candidates, Griffin spokesman Zia Ahmed said, “Ken proudly supports the men and women willing to run for elected office who are committed to protecting the American Dream by improving K-12 and college education, protecting individual rights and prioritizing public safety and national defense.”

Opponents of Trump warn that the moneymen who are powering a wave of election deniers are playing a dangerous game, as Trump-endorsed candidates spread false views about whether American elections are secure. The idea of donating to candidates based on policy views is flawed in a high-stakes election like this year’s midterms, said Ian Bassin, executive director of the nonprofit Protect Democracy.

“It’s almost as if they’re operating with a 1980s or 1990s view of the differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties,” said Bassin. “But if you look at the new right, it’s not the George W. Bush or Reagan Republican movement. It isn’t actually very pro-business at all, and donors like Griffin are getting in bed with a movement that is stirring up a base that will look very ugly to him when it gains power.”

Donating in the name of school choice

Pennsylvania’s Yass and his wife, Janine, have poured more than $47 million into this year’s midterms so far.

Much of the money donated by Yass has gone to a single cause, a super PAC run by the conservative Club for Growth called the School Freedom Fund, which claims online it promotes school choice “to dramatically improve education in America.” The Yasses are passionate about charter schools and other school choice options, Pennsylvania operatives told Grid.

“Jeff and Janine Yass are involved politically because politics are what trap underserved children in perpetually underperforming and unsafe schools,” said Matthew Brouillette, founder of the Pennsylvania-based Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs.

“People think this election was stolen,” Ogles said in June of 2021. “And I think more and more of these audits are showing that there’s a whole lot of monkey business or incompetence that took place.” Like many Republicans, Ogles supports school choice, but it is just one of many issues his campaign supports.

A spokesman for Susquehanna International Group did not reply to requests for comment for Yass. A representative for Richard Uihlein, the midterms’ biggest Republican donor, did not respond to a request for comment.

Critics in the Republican Party argue that any dollar given this year to Republicans will ultimately help elevate the pro-Trump right — and big donors know it.

“They know what they’re getting for their money,” said Reed Galen, co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. “The MAGA caucus in both chambers is going to be far bigger next year. McCarthy’s going to be speaker with a bit in his mouth and a saddle on his back. And McConnell won’t be able to control any of these new guys.”

Withholding donations from Trump and holding out hope for DeSantis

When it comes to donating to Trump himself, these donors have drawn a line in the sand.

Trump is arguably the most influential individual in this year’s midterms. His decision to endorse particular candidates was instrumental in setting the Republican ticket, and their continued vocal allegiance to the former president makes this election an important test for Trumpism.

Trump has spent only some of the money that he’s raised over the last two years on those candidates. Of the $68 million spent by Trump’s super PAC during that time, roughly $10 million has been contributed to Republicans running for office. The PAC has spent more than $12 million staging events and rallies, and $8.5 million on legal fees, which may be footing the bill for lawyers defending Trump in investigations related to the 2020 election results.

But Trump’s PAC isn’t, for the most part, funded by major party donors. More than half the money donated to his super PAC over the last two years came from small-dollar donors giving $200 or less, making him Republicans’ best grassroots fundraiser and giving him a major advantage as he prepares to run in 2024.

There is another potential 2024 contender who has the attention of donors like Griffin and Yass. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential contender to Trump, has long been a favorite of some elite Republicans.

“We’ll see how Gov. DeSantis traverses the next year as governor before we come to a conclusion,” said Griffin. “Out of the gate, he did an incredible job of protecting retirees in South Florida. Just knocked the ball out of the park.”

A political odd couple

The 2022 midterms’ biggest Republican donor, Uihlein, is one of the biggest mysteries in politics. Uihlein says little about his political giving and keeps distance from the moderate Republicans who dominate the party in his home state, Illinois.

“There’s this sense that, in the off chance that you can get his secretary to let you through and you can connect with him in his office, you’ve got a shot at a million bucks,” said one Republican operative familiar with Uihlein’s political giving, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of Uihlein’s power in Republican politics.

While they have cut checks to Trump in the past, the Uihleins have given the former president only a fraction of what they regularly pour into other candidates for office. They did not make a habit of visiting the White House during Trump’s tenure, and it’s unclear if they would back a challenger like DeSantis over Trump in 2024.

The Uihleins have poured more than $130 million into politics on the state and national levels in the last two years. At times, candidates who promote conspiracy theories have garnered their support: Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who fundraised at an event that featured QAnon ideas and hired a former official with the far-right Oath Keepers as a bodyguard, has received $1 million in donations from the Uihleins.

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