A day after Donald Trump announced his third bid for the presidency, he faced public defections from billionaire backers and vicious trolling from a once-friendly New York tabloid – underscoring his early challenges in mounting a political comeback nearly two years after the end of his divisive presidency.
Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the private equity firm Blackstone and a one-time Trump ally, announced Wednesday that he would not support Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination, saying it’s time “for the Republican party to turn to a new generation of leaders.”
A spokesman for another billionaire supporter – cosmetic heir Ronald Lauder – confirmed to CNN on Wednesday that Lauder would not back Trump’s bid to become only the second US president elected to two nonconsecutive terms.
And in another sign that the once-supportive conservative media empire controlled by Rupert Murdoch has moved on from Trump, the New York Post on Wednesday topped its story of his campaign announcement with a brutal headline, “Been there, Don That.” (By contrast, a front-page Post headline last week heralded Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as “DeFuture,” after the Republican cruised to a second term.)
The pullback by some donors shows that some of the party’s elite figures are open to alternatives two years out from the next presidential election. Trump, who has relied on a small-donor base to fuel his political ambitions, remains a formidable fundraising force. In an unprecedented move, he never stopped fundraising after leaving the White House, and his array of political committees has amassed more than $100 million in cash reserves.
Trump is the first major Republican candidate to announce his candidacy. Over the weekend, DeSantis – a potential rival for the nomination – is slated to address one of the Republican Party’s most influential donor groups when he delivers a speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual gala dinner. Former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, another Republican viewed as a possible presidential contender, also is slated to speak at the Saturday night event in Las Vegas.
Trump remains a “big factor” in Republican politics and has earned accolades from coalition members for his staunch support of Israel, said Matthew Brooks, RJC’s executive director.
But “people are window-shopping right now,” Brooks added. “There are people who are asking if we need a new direction and a new face.”
Brooks said Trump was invited to the RJC gathering but had a scheduling conflict.
CNN has reached out to Trump aides for comment.
Schwarzman’s retreat from Trump is particularly significant because he’s one of the biggest donors in Republican politics and contributed $3 million in 2020 to a super PAC supporting Trump’s unsuccessful reelection campaign.
In the midterms alone, Schwarzman donated more than $35 million to Republican candidates and groups active in federal elections, according to OpenSecrets, a nonprofit group that tracks political money.
“America does better when its leaders are rooted in today and tomorrow, not today and yesterday,” Schwarzman said in his statement, first reported by Axios. Schwarzman said he would support one of the GOP’s “new generation of leaders” but did not say whom he is considering backing.
Another Republican megadonor, Citadel’s Ken Griffin, recently indicated he would back DeSantis in 2024, should the Florida governor seek the GOP nomination.
Lauder, a long-time Trump friend and financial supporter of Republican candidates and causes, has not indicated who would win his support.
This story has been updated with additional developments.