Despite his monumental lead in the primary campaign, Donald Trump is not universally popular within the Republican Party.
The former president leads closest party rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, by almost 40 points – a lead which has never been caught in any party’s primary campaign since modern poll tracking began. His support has only grown with each passing indictment against him, and it’s almost certain that he will be the GOP’s presidential nominee no matter whether he is a criminal by that point.
Trump’s personal fortune has funded much of his campaign, although fundraisers have been held to raise money for fellow defendants, like Rudy Giuliani. It’s a unique strategy, mainly as criminal defendants seldom run for the presidency, but the Republican frontrunner has capitalized on his legal battles for political gain.
It leaves major GOP donors with a tough decision; support Trump as the likely party candidate, or back an alternative with little to no chance to win.
Trump’s repeatedly stated he’s the subject of a politically motivated “witch hunt,” a rhetoric that has stuck with his supporters. Even those who have donated to alternative campaigns, such as billionaire oil tycoon Harold Hamm who has donated to Gov. DeSantis and Nikki Haley in recent months. The shift has raised some concerns.
“I think that a lot of people are really questioning how unjust this democratic thrust against Donald Trump is,” he told the Financial Times. “What’s America come to? Are we a third world nation?”
Mike Pence supporter and Variety Wholesalers chair Art Pope also agrees. “I do think President Trump is getting a lot of sympathetic support, because he’s been unfairly persecuted,” said Pope. “President Trump’s not my choice to be the Republican nominee, but I think those charges are unjust as well. I do think the indictments have actually benefited President Trump among Republican primary voters.”
Nevertheless, divisions over whether to support the controversial frontrunner remain prominent. Faced with the prospect of a 2020 election rematch, Hamm said he “certainly would” support the former president as he “would have no alternative.”
It’s not a universal view. Hedge fund founder Richard Chilton told the FT that Trump is “narcissistic” and “terrible,” condoning the “smart, compassionate and credible” Haley instead. However, he’s yet to spend a penny on any campaign. “I’m not just spending money to help the Republican Party,” said Chilton. “You know why? Because there are a lot of people that do that. I want my money to count. I’d rather give my money to underprivileged kids than do that.”
It echoes the views of Club for Growth board member Frayda Levy. “There is no candidate for the big donors right now,” Levy said. “Big donors really have little say in what goes on in the Republican party today.”
Shay Bottomley is a British journalist based in Canada. He has written for the Western Standard, Maidenhead Advertiser, Slough Express, Windsor Express, Berkshire Live and Southend Echo, and has covered notable events including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
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