TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — Governor DeSantis’ opponents are pointing to comments from three billionaire GOP donors as proof that he’s losing momentum in his anticipated 2024 presidential run, but their narrative ignores key facts and the larger financial scorecard.
Republican mega-donors Thomas Peterffy, John Catsimatidis and Ken Langone aired their grievances with DeSantis to the press last month – throwing fodder to the governor’s detractors in the process.
“The donors are largely leaving him now,” Trump told Steve Bannon on Friday. “What’s happening is the donors are calling me now because the donors follow the polls.”
A closer look at the comments and track record of each billionaire suggests Team Trump’s message is exaggerated at best.
Catsimatidis – a former Republican mayoral candidate in 2013 and current talk radio host – has never been a strong DeSantis supporter. He gave a relatively modest $15,000 to DeSantis ahead of his congressional race in 2015, but donated $20,000 to the governor’s Democrat challenger Charlie Crist in 2022. Catsimatidis told the Washington Examiner last week that he won’t support DeSantis because he “doesn't return phone calls.”
Langone contributed $50,000 to DeSantis' first run for governor in 2018 and has praised him on multiple occasions in recent years. Langone told the Washington Post on April 19 that he would prefer DeSantis take a more moderate and “conciliatory” approach to cultural issues, but the paper described him as “eager to support Ron DeSantis for president in 2024.”
Peterffy – who has given over half a million to the governor since 2018 – also thinks DeSantis is too conservative. He told The Financial Times on April 15 that he and “a bunch of friends” are withholding fundraising support from DeSantis due to his support for abortion restrictions and opposition to sexually explicit books in school libraries.
However, the uber-rich donor never indicated he had ruled out future donations to DeSantis.
“I am more reluctant to back him,” Peterffy said. “We are waiting to see who among the primary candidates is most likely to be able to win the general, and then put all of our firepower behind them.”
While numerous polls show Trump comfortably ahead at this juncture, DeSantis’ formidable financial position solidifies his position as the former president’s top Republican rival.
“In a still-developing presidential field, major donor fundraising is an early signal about momentum and staying power,” senior GOP strategist Zach Hunter told the Washington Examiner on Wednesday. “If DeSantis aims to be seen as the only viable Trump alternative, massive fundraising hauls for him and his outside allies are one of the clearest ways to claim that mantle.”
DeSantis’ $110 million war chest is twice the size of Trump’s, Politico reported on Friday, a fact that further undercuts the former president’s narrative.
“The money has walked,” longtime Trump fundraiser Roy Bailey told The New York Times last week. “From my conversations with a lot of people from around the country, it has moved to DeSantis. It is a cold, hard fact.”