Nikki Haley lost Iowa. Then she lost New Hampshire. Now, some of the Republican Party’s biggest donors — a class of Trump-resistant donors who have fueled his candidacy for months — are at least opening the door to former President Donald J. Trump.
A network of some of the nation’s wealthiest Republican donors gathered this week at a winter meeting in Florida hosted by the American Opportunity Alliance and heard from top aides to Mr. Trump and Ms. Haley. The rally Monday and Tuesday was one of the first significant steps in Mr. Trump’s reluctant return to reality for some of those donors, after Mr. Trump’s aides did not receive such an invitation to the group’s fall retreat.
Ms Haley is planning a series of fundraisers in the coming days and held one in New York on Tuesday evening. Money will not be an obstacle to his candidacy. But privately, some of the party’s top donors — including those who support Ms. Haley — say they are ready for the contest to end, in order to focus on President Biden, and admit that Ms. Haley is unlikely to succeed . overtake Mr. Trump in the absence of an unforeseen event.
At the American Opportunity Alliance retreat, Ms. Haley had far more support than Mr. Trump. Kenneth Griffin, a billionaire hedge fund executive and top Republican donor who attended the retreat, gave $5 million to his super PAC this month, according to a person close to him.
Before Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida withdrew from the race, he and his allies expected support from Mr. Griffin because the investor had given generously to him in the past. But Mr. Griffin has been disappointed by what he sees as an incompetent campaign coupled with profound policy errors, such as Mr. DeSantis’s description of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial conflict,” according to several people close to his thoughts.
Mr. Griffin was waiting for a younger candidate who could challenge Mr. Trump, and it took him months to decide whether to support Ms. Haley. He praised Ms. Haley in a statement to reporters, saying “America would be well served by someone with her foreign policy credentials and policy priorities in the White House.”
But speaking at an event earlier on Tuesday, Mr Griffin admitted his path was “narrower” than it was two months ago, before Mr Trump won Iowa and New Hampshire. The $5 million he contributed to Ms. Haley’s super PAC, while a large sum by any normal accounting, is a relatively modest donation for Mr. Griffin. In 2022, it spent $50 million to try to defeat Gov. JB Pritzker of Illinois, a Democrat.
Another donor, Las Vegas developer Robert Bigelow, is not part of the AOA network but had supported Mr. DeSantis by donating $20 million to his super PAC. This week, he said he was giving the same amount to Mr. Trump.
Olivia Perez-Cubas, a spokeswoman for the Haley campaign, said, “No one said it would be easy, but we continue to run a smart campaign that will ensure Republicans don’t continue to lose.” Nikki is the only obstacle to a Trump-Biden rematch, which 70% of Americans do not want.
Susie Wiles, a top adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign, told the AOA rally at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach, Fla., a simple story, using graphics, that depicted M .Trump as the inevitable Republican candidate. She described to donors how he would win in the fall and said the campaign would have support from the party’s major donors, according to three people familiar with the event.
Ms. Wiles’ invitation to the AOA event was the first time the group, which holds two meetings a year, hosted a representative from the Trump camp in the 2024 primary cycle. last year in Dallas, only Ms. Haley’s advisers, Mr. DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina were invited. Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Scott have since dropped out of the presidential race.
Ms. Haley’s campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, gave what two people described as an impassioned speech at the AOA meeting, calling her candidate an alternative to a chaotic and unpopular presidential candidate who could cause a backlash. domino of losses for the party in the House and Senate. November.
Ms. Ankney laid out what she described as damning facts about the Trump candidacy. His litany included the $83.3 million that Mr. Trump was ordered to pay last week in a defamation case filed by the writer E. Jean Carroll, whom a previous jury found to have sexually abused, according to people close to his remarks.
Ms. Ankney acknowledged that Ms. Haley, a former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, had faced an uphill battle to defeat Mr. Trump. But she insisted that Ms. Haley would stay in the race as long as she had money and momentum, the sources said.
Ms. Haley has long-standing ties to a number of American Opportunity Alliance donors, and the network does not move in unison. Still, Ms. Wiles’ presentation to the group of largely Trump-resistant donors shows that many of them are finally, after much hesitation, entering the acceptance phase of the grief cycle. It remains to be seen whether those offended by Mr. Trump will decide to join him, sit out the primaries, or stay away from the general election.
Ms. Wiles’ presentation came just days after the former president, in a post on his social media site, Truth Social, threatened to freeze any major donors who gave to Ms. Haley. Ms. Wiles acknowledged her candidate’s comments, but cited the various ways her team had tried to achieve Mr. Trump’s nomination as quickly as possible. For example, she highlighted how Trump’s team worked behind the scenes, with a team of seasoned strategists, to get the state’s Republican parties to change the rules so he could recruit as many delegates as possible.
She also promoted the Trump campaign’s powerful online fundraising operation and questioned Ms. Haley’s general election prospects, saying she doubted the former’s diehard supporter base President votes for Ms. Haley. Mr. Trump criticized Ms. Haley for appealing to Democrats and independents in open primaries, and his advisers said she crossed the line by declaring over the weekend that she had confidence in the New York jury who concluded that he had defamed Ms Carroll. .
The presentations and their reception by the assembled donors were described by three people who were present or briefed on the matter and who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the meeting.
The winter meeting of the group — founded a decade ago by wealthy investors including Paul Singer and Mr. Griffin, both hedge fund magnates — came at a critical time in the Republican primary race. Mr. Trump, fresh off decisive victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, hopes to crush Ms. Haley in her home state of South Carolina in the Feb. 24 primary, potentially dealing a blow to his candidacy. fatal.
For Team Trump, which is simultaneously fighting all four criminal charges Mr. Trump has been charged with in 2023, spending money on Ms. Haley until February, weeks before one of the trials begins , is an unwelcome proposition.
This week’s event, as several people described it, was far less confrontational than the last AOA meeting. At that meeting, the DeSantis team in particular faced borderline hostile questions, according to those present.
An ally of Ms. Haley, speaking anonymously because the person was not authorized to publicly discuss the event, praised Ms. Wiles for coming forward in front of what would be a skeptical audience.
“The bridge was never burned,” said a senior Trump adviser, Chris LaCivita, when asked in an interview about the Trump campaign’s attitude toward major Republican donors like Mr. Singer and Mr. .Griffin, who stood up to Mr. Trump.
“The bridge is there,” Mr. LaCivita added. “It’s up to them if they want to cross it.” They are all intelligent people. They know there is no path to victory, no matter what Nikki and company say. imagine.”