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These Powerful Billionaires Disavowed Trump After January 6. Now They Back Him.

Many donors disavowed Trump after the mob attack on the Capitol. Their attitude now? “We’ll get richer if he wins.”

Former President Donald Trump leaves after addressing members of the media at Trump Tower on May 31, 2024, in New York City.

The 2024 U.S. presidential election is heating up. As usual, ultrawealthy donors are vying for influence with the major candidates, hosting lavish fundraisers and throwing mountains of cash into super PACs supporting Joe Biden or Donald Trump.

Biden has his staunch billionaire backers, especially from Hollywood and Silicon Valley, while Trump has the likes of far right oil tycoon Tim Dunn and election denialists Liz and Dick Uihlein behind him. A recent Sludge/More Perfect Union analysis compiled a list of 56 billionaires backing Trump.

But in recent weeks, a notable trend has dominated headlines: a host of powerful billionaires — who once strongly disavowed Trump after the January 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection and his false claims of a stolen election — have rallied back to the GOP candidate, casting aside their professed concerns for democracy.

Truthout looked at some of these reversals and spoke to experts on the U.S. ruling elite about the reasons for their backpedaling on Trump. Amid the rationales given, from immigration to antisemitism, one overarching reason stands out.

As one private equity executive told the Financial Times: “We’ll get richer if he wins.”

Crawling Back to Trump

The most powerful billionaire running back to Trump is Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and CEO of Blackstone Group, the world’s largest private equity firm. Blackstone manages over $1 trillion in assets, with holdings across nearly every industry, and has drawn scrutiny for everything from propping up dirty fossil fuel plants to exploiting child labor.

Schwarzman is worth an astonishing $38.1 billion and owns luxurious estates across the globe. He’s drawn attention for his outlandish, multimillion-dollar birthday parties that have featured live camels, trapeze artists and music megastars. A huge Republican donor, Schwarzman once compared the Obama administration’s plan to raise the carried interest tax rate to “when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

Schwarzman was a staunch supporter of Trump’s presidency and served as his close adviser, chairing Trump’s strategic and policy forum. The group dissolved following the resignation of several CEOs after the 2017 white nationalist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, whose racist participants Trump called “very fine people.

While Schwarzman was upset with Trump over Charlottesville, he personally hosted a fundraiser for the president just months later, right after the Senate passed Trump’s corporate-friendly tax bill. Various reports suggest that Schwarzman also benefited from his relationship to Trump around trade policy with China and investments in Saudi Arabia.

Schwarzman previously donated several million dollars to Trump’s presidential efforts, and didn’t break with him even after the January 6 insurrection, though he issued a statement calling it “appalling and an affront to the democratic values we hold dear as Americans.”

Only after the 2022 midterms did Schwarzman defect from the Trump camp. “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,” Schwarzman said in a statement to Axios. But in May 2024, Schwarzman changed his tune, declaring that he was backing Trump’s presidential run because “our economic, immigration and foreign policies are taking the country in the wrong direction.” Schwarzman also said that “the dramatic rise of antisemitism” had led him “to focus on the consequences of upcoming elections with greater urgency.”

Another powerful billionaire running back to Trump is Nelson Peltz, the CEO and founder of hedge fund Trian Fund Management.

Peltz is something of a Wall Street arch-villain. He is the chairman of Wendy’s, where he has been the focus of a years-long campaign by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for the fast-food giant to join the award-winning Fair Food Program. Peltz also made headlines earlier this year when he waged an unsuccessful proxy battle at Disney.

The most powerful billionaire running back to Trump is Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and CEO of Blackstone Group, the world’s largest private equity firm.

Peltz is a longtime donor to (and friend and neighbor of) Donald Trump. In 2020, he personally hosted a massive Trump fundraiser at his $136.4 million Palm Beach estate. But a day after the January 6 Capitol insurrection, Peltz released a statement condemning Trump’s “efforts to overturn the election results which culminated in yesterday’s shocking events at our Capitol,” calling it “a stain on America.”

Then came the big apology: “I voted for [Trump] in this past election in November. Today, I’m sorry I did that.”

Fast forward to 2024. Peltz is flocking back to Trump — reluctantly, he claims — because of “worries about immigration” and what he calls Biden’s “really scary” mental condition, reports the Financial Times.

In March, Peltz hosted a breakfast with Trump, Elon Musk, and a handful of other billionaires, where they discussed a “data-driven project” of Musk’s and Peltz’s “to ensure votes are fairly counted,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Other billionaires have followed similar paths. Aerospace and real estate baron Robert Bigelow repudiated Trump after January 6, but he’s now donating millions toward Trump’s reelection. Hedge fund billionaires Ken Griffin, who called Trump a “three-time loser” and hoped he would not run again, and Bill Ackman, who called on Trump to resign after January 6, are both flirting with backing Trump.

“Tax Cuts and Deregulation”

Despite their apparent commitment to democracy, these billionaires, with few qualms, are lining up behind a candidate with a clear anti-democratic and authoritarian streak. What gives?

“I think it’s pretty simple,” Doug Henwood, who has studied and written about the U.S. ruling class for decades, tells Truthout. “I think they just see Trump as tax cuts and deregulation. That’s all they care about.”

U.S. billionaire wealth has skyrocketed by the trillions since the Trump administration passed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which delivered massive tax breaks to the corporate elite. Trump is promising CEOs that, if elected, he’ll extend and deepen the tax cuts, which expire next year.

“They’re happy to have this guy with all these authoritarian instincts and promises to push through,” says Henwood.

Business executives are also frustrated with top Biden appointees at regulatory agencies and seem increasingly willing to overlook Trump’s role in January 6 and his criminal convictions for the prospect of a more corporate-friendly state.

“A lot of very rich people see that they can benefit from the Trump agenda,” Mike Wendling, BBC reporter and author of Day of Reckoning: How the Far Right Declared War on Democracy, told Truthout. “It might be that they are supporting him, not because of January 6, but despite it.”

Henwood says that preserving democracy is a secondary concern for many ruling elites. “They don’t care about democracy,” he said. “I think they just think the public is stupid, and that democracy makes for bad economic policy.”

Aerospace and real estate baron Robert Bigelow repudiated Trump after January 6, but he’s now donating millions toward Trump’s reelection.

This sentiment was echoed by Kathy Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, the city’s powerful corporate lobby, who told Politico that Republicans have told her that “the threat to capitalism from the Democrats is more concerning than the threat to democracy from Trump.”

Antisemitism?

Schwarzman’s claim that rising antisemitism factors into his support for Trump appears confusing, given Trump’s coziness with antisemitic forces on the far right. Schwarzman’s comments come amid an elite backlash to campus protests against Israel’s siege of Gaza and other criticism of Zionism.

Wendling doesn’t discount that antisemitism has surfaced on the left, but says there is “a bigger strain of antisemitism on the right,” with far right groups like Patriot Front and Goyim Defense League behind the bulk of antisemitic incidents. These groups, like the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, come out of the right-wing ecosystem.

Wendling also notes that Trump allies like Marjorie Taylor Greene dabble in antisemitic tropes. “If eradicating antisemitism was at the top of your list, you might question whether Donald Trump is the right person to do that,” says Wendling.

The corporate elite’s invocations of antisemitism, says Henwood, are more about silencing critics of Israel. “Anybody who criticizes Israel is an ‘antisemite.’ That’s all it really amounts to with these characters,” he said. “They’re so used to having a total consensus around support of Israel, that any departure from that consensus seems like the end of the world to them.”

Silicon Valley and Trump

Trump’s deepest base of support may be the fossil fuel industry. Oil billionaires like Kelcy Warren and Tim Dunn are lining up behind him. Fossil fuel executives attended a May fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago where Trump suggested they donate $1 billion toward his second presidency, which would weaken climate regulations. Trump has promised to approve new fossil fuel projects and expand oil and gas drilling. He regularly invokes the mantra “drill, baby, drill” at his campaign rallies.

Fracking billionaire Harold Hamm had previously been a major Trump backer, but in 2023, he urged Trump to end his presidential run, saying the country needed a “clean slate” and to move away from “division and chaos.” But now Hamm is, again, backing Trump with campaign contributions and fundraisers.

Trump is also making deeper inroads into Big Tech, a sector long dominated by billionaire Democratic donors like Reid Hoffman, Eric Schmidt and Sheryl Sandberg.

Silicon Valley investor David Sacks recently hosted a sold-out Trump fundraiser at his luxurious San Francisco mansion, with tickets costing as much as $500,000 per couple. Ultrawealthy investors with Sequoia Capital, one of the biggest Silicon Valley venture capital firms, have also announced donations to Trump. Palantir adviser Jacob Helberg, previously a Democratic donor, recently gave $1 million to Trump’s campaign.

According to the Financial Times, some Silicon Valley elites may be turning away from Biden because they perceive “a hostile regulatory regime” around cryptocurrency and AI. Trump has told industry leaders that he would be the “crypto president” and weaken the Biden administration’s regulatory efforts around the industry.

“It felt like a particularly wild moment in Silicon Valley politics,” said one cryptocurrency executive who attended the Sacks’ fundraiser. “The blue wall has been breached.”

U.S. billionaire wealth has skyrocketed by the trillions since the Trump administration passed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

While Wendling says that Sacks’s endorsement of Trump, with its focus on the economy, foreign affairs and immigration, doesn’t indicate a “particularly out-there agenda,” Elon Musk’s gravitation around Trump could be more consequential. A muscular alliance between Trump and Musk — the world’s richest person, controlling a major social media platform — could have huge political implications.

Musk has not officially endorsed or donated to Trump, but he’s met with the former president and discussed a possible advisory role if Trump wins.

“I wouldn’t characterize Musk as being far right, but certainly he’s talking more and more about far right ideas and following and interacting with a bunch of far right people,” says Wendling. He adds that Musk, who posts conspiracy theories, may find Trump’s anti-establishment persona appealing.

“Money doesn’t exempt you from believing in some of these conspiracy theories,” he said, “and certainly Elon Musk has repeated some of them.”

Henwood has written about “the rot” of the American ruling class as it willingly oversees the decay and disintegration of basic institutions of U.S. society.

Classical European fascism in Germany and Italy emerged from intense political and class conflicts that led corporate rulers who felt besieged to align with authoritarian leaders. But it’s unclear to him what corporate elites see as so existentially threatening today.

“I don’t know what these people are afraid of,” Henwood told Truthout. “The mild reformism of Biden? I guess that’s just too much for them.”

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