In this 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump stands next to Jamie Dimon, chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co., left, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
As Donald Trump surges toward the Republican nomination, many Wall Street executives have made a calculated decision not to speak out against him, and in some cases they will consider supporting the Republican former president over Democratic President Joe Biden, according to over a dozen people familiar with the matter.
“A lot of people on Wall Street have been living in this pipe dream of Trump not getting the nomination. People were in the first stage of [grief], denial. Now they’re trying to get their heads around the fact that Trump could be the nominee,” said an executive at a private equity firm. Like others in this story, the executive was granted anonymity in order to relay details of private conversations.
This view reflects one shared by large portions of Wall Street, who are scrambling to come to grips with the idea that Trump is the likely GOP nominee for president and he could beat Biden in November. A Real Clear Politics polling average Sunday had Trump leading Biden nationwide by about two points in a general election.
“It’s painful for me to admit this, but Wall Street is basically nonchalant to this election,” longtime Wall Street executive and former Trump communications director Anthony Scaramucci said in a recent interview with The Hill.
“I think they view Donald Trump by and large as benign to somewhat beneficial to the economy and business,” he added.
Other financial executives have little appetite for angering the former president, and want to hedge their bets in the race for the White House, where polls show a close race between Trump and Biden.
“I think unless there is some catastrophic crisis like the [Jan. 6, 2021] insurrection, they think of themselves as stewards of other people’s money and they don’t want to take a position that divides their workforce, their investors and their customers. They are mindful of their different constituencies,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a senior associate dean at the Yale School of Management.
“They are not out there to be political ward heelers. They are not out there doing door to door campaign solicitations. They are there to run their companies,” he added. More than practically any other academic, Sonnenfeld knows the pulse of America’s Fortune 500 CEOs.
In the days following the 2020 presidential election, Sonnenfeld convened a storied call of major CEOs, who brainstormed what they might do if Trump refused to accept a peaceful transition of power.
Wall Street’s refusal to counter Trump has grown more obvious as Trump effectively sewed up the Republican nomination in the past week.
Trump is on track to win the upcoming New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average. A FiveThirtyEight polling average showed Trump leading by more than 50 points nationally in the Republican primary.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis dropped out of the 2024 presidential race and endorsed Trump on Sunday after he was walloped during the Iowa caucuses. Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley finished third in Iowa, but comes into New Hampshire with a solid base of support, although her path to the nomination remains murky at best.
After DeSantis came in a distant second to Trump in Iowa last week, several of DeSantis’ Wall Street backers received calls from Trump allies, including from the former president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr. and Jets owner Woody Johnson, essentially recruiting them to Trump’s team, according to people familiar with the matter.
The outreach appears to have worked: Many of those financiers are seriously considering whether, or have already decided, to help raise money for Trump over Biden, these people said.
Others are sitting on the sidelines and refuse to fund anti-Trump efforts that would effectively support Biden, others said. An outside effort “will not work against Trump,” one of DeSantis’ Wall Street fundraisers said.
Few financial executives have concrete plans to put big money behind Haley, Trump’s only viable remaining primary rival.
Haley has a fundraiser scheduled to take place in New York after the New Hampshire primary that’s co-hosted by many in the finance sector, some set to attend the event are already warning they could limit their support for her if she struggles against Trump in the Granite State.
Longtime investor Ken Langone is set to co-host the Jan. 30 Haley fundraiser in the Big Apple, according to an invite reviewed by CNBC. He told the Financial Times that he was prepared to give Haley “a nice sum of money” but may wait until after the New Hampshire primary to make the move.
“If she doesn’t get traction in New Hampshire, you don’t throw money down a rat hole,” Langone said.
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks to the crowd during caucus day in West Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., January 15, 2024.
Marco Bello | Reuters
Others planning to intend the event privately conceded that if Haley struggled in New Hampshire, they believed the primary would be over for her. That might be a good time for them to head back to Trump’s corner.
Out of more than $47 million donated by those working in the securities and investment industry toward Republicans so far this cycle, almost a third of that total has come from just one financial executive contributing to political action committees seeking to defeat Trump in the primary.
Jeffrey Yass, a co-founder of trading firm Susquehanna International Group, has donated over $15 million to PACs opposing Trump, according to data from the nonpartisan OpenSecrets.
Yass is a rare exception, however.
“I think most of them have resigned themselves to a Trump primary win and don’t want to throw good money after bad trying to stop him, said Charles Myers, a former vice chairman at investment bank Evercore and a Biden fundraiser.
“The next question is, ‘will Wall Street work to stop him in the general by supporting Biden?'”
In 2020, Wall Street executives combined to donate over $74 million to helping Biden defeat Trump.
A shift in tone
Among the powerful financial leaders who have declined to criticize Trump as he rose in the polls was JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, known as the king of Wall Street.
“I would never say that. He might be the president, I might have to deal with that,” Dimon said in November, when asked whether he belonged to the so-called “never Trump” movement.
At the time, Dimon urged business leaders to support Haley. In response, Trump ripped Dimon on social media.
Fast forward six weeks and Dimon was mum on Haley, and instead appeared to be making Trump’s case for reelection for him.
“Take a step back, be honest. He was kind of right about NATO, kind of right on immigration. He grew the economy quite well. Trade, tax reform worked. He was right about some of China,” Dimon said in a CNBC interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.
“I will be prepared for both [Trump and Biden administrations], we will deal with both, my company will survive and thrive in both,” he added.
Steve Schwarzman, the CEO of Blackstone and a past Trump supporter, did not rule out when asked by CNBC at the elite conference in Davos, Switzerland that he will go back to support the former president just two years after he said he was looking for alternatives.
“I think we have to see what happens,” Schwarzman said when asked whether he’s going to back Trump again in 2024.
This marked a shift from what the Blackstone CEO said in 2022, when he announced, “it is time for the Republican party to turn to a new generation of leaders and I intend to support one of them in the presidential primaries.”
Trump’s surge in the polls and his dominance in the primaries was a constant theme of discussions at the World Economic Forum.
“There is not a conversation you have here, where I am not asked to handicap the election,” Atlantic Council CEO Fred Kempe told CNBC at the meeting. “People are calling it the ‘Trump put.’ They’re hedging Trump.”