Corporate leaders, wealthy donors want a say in Trump's vice presidential pick

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event in Freeland, Michigan, U.S. May 1, 2024. 

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

Former President Donald Trump and people close to him are fielding calls from corporate leaders and wealth donors eager to share who they think Trump should tap for a running mate, according to people familiar with the matter.

Ike Perlmutter, a billionaire and former chairman of Marvel Entertainment, told Trump he thinks the former president should choose New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, according to a person briefed on the conversation.

Rupert Murdoch has hinted to several friends who move in Trump’s social circles that he would be happy with a Republican ticket that included Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Billionaire Trump backers in the real estate industry have told the former president’s advisers that they like South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, according to people who have spoken with them. These and other sources for this story were granted anonymity to recount private conversations.

Trump has also reportedly been pitched on Scott by Oracle chairman and Republican megadonor Larry Ellison.

A spokesman for Fox, which still handles Murdoch’s press requests, declined to comment. A spokesman for Perlmutter did not return requests for comment from CNBC.

Some VP shortlisters are being promoted primarily by one or two ultra-powerful backers. But others are more broadly popular with lots of Trump’s supporters.

Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio’s popularity was on display last weekend at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach, where wealthy Republicans gathered for the spring meeting of the Republican National Committee.

A person attending the retreat said Rubio was clearly the most desirable speaker for donors to pose for “grip and grin” photos with. Other VP contenders at the weekend meeting included Stefanik, Scott and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. The retreat also included a lunch at Mar-a-Lago with Trump.

Populists worry donors

Opinions are equally strong among some of Trump’s wealthiest supporters about who the former president should not choose to join his ticket.

Some major donors have expressed hopes that Trump selects a steady hand, someone who could help implement critical policy tied to their industries, if Trump were to win in November.

“I would imagine some of Trump’s trade agenda is pretty concerning for many donors, and they would hope for someone there to offer a different perspective to a 10% tariff across the board,” said Marc Short, a former chief of staff to ex-Vice President Mike Pence.

This may help to explain why some influential Trump donors are especially wary of Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, according to people close to the Trump campaign. Widely considered a serious contender in the “veep stakes,” Vance is an Ivy League-educated populist who backs higher tariffs and aggressive business regulation.

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy also has influential detractors. “It’s not going to be Vivek,” said a GOP lobbyist close to top party officials.

Opposition to Ramaswamy runs so deep, said the lobbyist, that some donors have effectively threatened to pull their support for the entire party if the former primary contender is Trump’s VP pick.

For some Republican National Committee aides, the message on Ramaswamy from donors, the lobbyist said, is “Good Lord, if it’s him, I’m out.”

The money race

Other donors are more interested in how a running mate could help Trump get elected than in what a potential VP might bring to the office.

Topping the list of desirable qualities, on this front, is a strong track record of fundraising, said a few of the sources.

Trump has struggled to keep up with President Joe Biden’s fundraising juggernaut. In March, the former president’s campaign raised $15 million, while Biden’s reelection campaign brought in $43 million, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Rubio, Stefanik, Scott and Burgum have all privately been pitched to Trump as top prospects with close ties to top business leaders. Those ties could bolster Trump’s fundraising operation if one of them is chosen as his running mate, according to people familiar with the matter.

Burgum could even help to self-fund Trump’s campaign, just as he did for his own Republican primary run for president.

Rubio, Stefanik and Scott also have their own fundraising networks, and could potentially deliver something even more valuable to the Trump fundraising operation: fresh donors.

‘Donor leverage’

Backing the winning horse in the veep stakes can pay major dividends for a donor if the ticket ends up in the White House.

“Trump is very transactional, so having a close relationship with Trump’s VP gives a donor leverage,” said Marc Short, a former chief of staff to Pence.

For example, if a donor who is close to the vice president was concerned about trade and tariffs, they could say to the White House, “I want to at least be heard out before you move on trade policy,” said Short.

But there’s a catch: Now that Trump has served a term as president, he feels comfortable navigating Washington politics on his own. As a result, if he is elected for the second time, he may not turn to his vice president for guidance as much as he did during his first term.

“I do think he leaned on Pence a lot because he didn’t have that experience in D.C. And now he feels he already has that experience, and thinking he doesn’t need that active of a vice president,” Short said.

Likewise, Trump is not seen as looking for a running mate to help him build bridges to business. On the contrary, he is more likely to prioritize a No. 2 who he thinks will be unshakably loyal to him. Trump has often complained that he felt betrayed on Jan. 6, 2021, when Pence refused to block certification of the 2020 election results.

For the time being, however, Trump is no hurry to introduce his running mate to the world.

Trump spends most of his days in a New York courtroom, where he is on trial for allegedly falsifying dozens of business records to cover up a hush money payment to a porn star.

The former president recently told a local TV station he expects to unveil his pick closer to the date of the Republican National Convention, which is scheduled from July 15 to 18.

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