Nov 29, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Mega-donors shake up GOP presidential race ahead of Iowa caucuses

Former President Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters at the Fort Dodge Senior High School on November 18, 2023 in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Former President Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters at the Fort Dodge Senior High School on Nov. 18 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Photo: Jim Vondruska/Getty Images

Former President Trump and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley are scoring Republican donors hoping to alter the trajectory of the 2024 primaries.

Why it matters: Some GOP mega-donors have stayed out of the primary in hopes that a Trump alternative would emerge, but with less than 50 days until the pivotal Iowa caucuses, they're starting to run out of time.

  • "The hope is this is increasingly becoming a two-person race with [former UN ambassador Nikki Haley] ... as the establishment alternative," said Ken Spain, a founding partner of Narrative Strategies. "It's still long shot, but a bet worth placing if you're an anti-Trump big money donor."

Driving the news: The politically powerful network backed by the Koch family announced Tuesday that it's endorsing Haley in the Republican presidential primaries.

  • Americans for Prosperity Action, the leading political arm of the Koch network, said that Haley "will have the full weight and scope of AFP Action's unmatched grassroots army and resources."
  • The network, which indicated earlier this year that it was not going to support Trump, refused to back his re-election campaign in 2020.

Zoom in: Deep-pocketed establishment donors have been lining up behind Haley in recent weeks, as she's seen a rise in the polls following strong debate performances.

State of play: Trump is aiming for a decisive victory in Iowa to all but cement his positioning as the Republican nominee, while his opponents seek any result that could puncture his aura of inevitability, per the New York Times.

The big picture: Trump is racking up high-dollar support, including from some donors who distanced themselves from him after the 2020 presidential election and Jan. 6, ABC News reports.

  • Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, who previously had not commented on 2024, wrote in an op-ed on Real Clear Politics earlier this month: "Let's face it: Donald Trump is going to win the nomination."
  • "You should be doing all you can to ensure his winning the general election," wrote Marcus, who had donated $16,000 to Haley's federal joint fundraising committee in March.
  • Oil mogul Harold Hamm, a top Trump fundraiser in 2016, attended a private meeting with Trump in October and paid $200,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC after previously saying the former president should drop out, per the Washington Post.

What to watch: Marcus, who told ABC News that he's not necessarily "happy" that Trump is the Republican frontrunner, said that his endorsement may lead other skeptical donors to pick a side.

  • "There are people I've spoken to that are still sitting on the fence, that don't know what to do. They dislike the person Trump, but they recognize that the talent is there," Marcus told ABC News.

Go deeper: Trump dominates 2024 GOP cash race

Go deeper