How GOP Voters Are Beating Big Donors

Donald Trump’s victory shows how money isn’t everything in politics.

Written by Anthony Constantini

What’s happening: Having won the New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican nominee. In this, he will have beat candidates held up by the purse strings of billionaire donors.

Why it matters: Trump’s nearly-there-nomination is historic in many ways: he would be the first Republican to be nominated three times in a row and the first former president to be re-nominated in over 100 years. But understated in this history is the story of how voters are defeating big donors and dark money — a rarity in American politics.

Leapfrogging: When the primary began, major donors leapt from one candidate to the next to find someone who could beat Trump. At first, donor hopes fell on Ron DeSantis. When his campaign failed to take off, they turned to Tim Scott. Finally, they pinned their hopes on establishment-friendly candidate Nikki Haley.

The conflict: If Trump returns to the White House, he will be at the height of his influence in the party. Donors have their own political priorities and want the GOP more aligned to their interests, not Trump’s.

  • A prime example: Billionaire donor Ken Griffin was reportedly annoyed when DeSantis called the Russo-Ukrainian War just a “territorial dispute.” Many suspect it was Griffin who convinced DeSantis to later walk back his comments.

  • Donors vs. voter reality: The number of Republicans who thought the U.S. was doing “too much” to help Ukraine jumped from below 50 percent to 62 during 2023.

  • They’re not quitting: In a sign that being rich does not make you politically astute, a group of billionaires is still planning a fundraiser for Haley on January 30th. Haley’s interventionist campaign has been fueled by dark money groups and establishment megadonors — as has her private wealth, much of which she made in the defense sector.