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Want to Be Trump’s Running Mate? Make Sure He Knows About Your Donors.

Want to Be Trump’s Running Mate? Make Sure He Knows About Your Donors.

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During his 2016 campaign, Donald J. Trump orchestrated a takeover of the Republican Party in part by blasting wealthy political donors as the root of corruption and delivering a populist message that appealed to working-class voters.

Eight years later, one of his key decision points in choosing a running mate is connections to the superrich.

As the end of the selection process approaches, with an announcement expected in the next two weeks after months of suggestion and misdirection, Republican hopefuls are looking to convince Mr. Trump that they have the financial backing behind them that could help swing the race.

There are other factors that could make for a good match. Mr. Trump is said to be considering candidates with discipline on the campaign trail, who will not steal his precious spotlight and would fare well in a debate with Vice President Kamala Harris.

But the money definitely matters — and some Republican donors with direct access to Mr. Trump have left unmistakable fingerprints on his process. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, for example, became a top contender late in the selection process after persistent lobbying from Steve Wynn, the billionaire former casino mogul who is close to Mr. Trump. Mr. Wynn has also played a role in persuading some other donors, such as Elon Musk, to be more supportive of the campaign.

Many vice-presidential hopefuls, including some outside contenders wise to the financial dynamic, have responded, boasting — and sometimes exaggerating — the amount they could raise for the ticket. The posturing, in some cases, has drawn sneers from some Republican donors, who feel like they are being used as pawns in internecine warfare.

But the most successful financial jockeying has come from the three contenders who are, as of now, viewed as the top candidates for the job: Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Mr. Burgum, a former software executive who sold a company to Microsoft, has an estimated net worth of at least $100 million, according to Forbes, suggesting he could inject some of his fortune into the race. He spent more than $10 million on his own short-lived, long-shot presidential bid last year.

He has also sought to demonstrate his fund-raising potential for Mr. Trump by luring wealthy first-time donors to the president’s corner. On Tuesday, Mr. Burgum hosted a video conference with donors where the campaign charged $10,000 merely to join the call, and $25,000 to participate in a question-and-answer session, according to a copy of the invitation.

Tom Siebel, a billionaire tech investor, wrote his first check to Mr. Trump — for $500,000 — because Mr. Burgum was in the mix for the Republican ticket. Dick Boyce, a longtime Republican fund-raiser in Silicon Valley who is a former chairman for both Burger King and Del Monte Foods, said he had also made his second donation to Mr. Trump — a $100,000 contribution — in part owing to his consideration of Mr. Burgum, who was a classmate at Stanford Business School.

“I’m inclined to do more with Doug in the V.P. position, and the complimentary nature of him and Trump would give confidence to a lot more people, too,” Mr. Boyce, a former partner at Bain & Company, said in an interview. “The vice president is someone who you could picture being president, not someone who might deliver a certain state, and sometimes that gets lost.”

Then there is Mr. Vance. A former venture capitalist, Mr. Vance organized a $12 million fund-raising event this month in Silicon Valley, part of an attempt to show his ability to draw tech industry donations.

Despite those efforts and Mr. Vance’s rise in Trumpworld, Mr. Vance’s single biggest donor remains a glaring holdout: the Silicon Valley megadonor Peter Thiel. Mr. Thiel, who put $15 million into an effort to elect Mr. Vance to the Senate in 2022 and used to employ him, said definitively on Thursday, for the first time, that he would not be a major financial supporter of Mr. Trump, as he had been in 2016. And it didn’t sound as if naming Mr. Vance to the ticket would change that.

“If you hold a gun to my head, I will vote for Trump,” Mr. Thiel said at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “I’m not going to give any money to his super PAC.”

Mr. Rubio, who built a formidable fund-raising operation for his own presidential bid in 2016, could be an attractive option for the Republican donors and groups who helped plow more than $146 million into an effort to nominate former Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who was Mr. Trump’s last remaining primary opponent this year.

Ms. Haley’s supporters include some prominent Republican holdouts in the billionaire class, such as the hedge fund titans Paul Singer and Kenneth Griffin.

And then there are outside contenders like Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who has aggressively sought to position himself as a darling of the donor class, claiming support from people including Mr. Singer and Larry Ellison, the Oracle founder. A week ago in Washington, Mr. Scott hosted a gathering for supporters of his new policy group that, three attendees say, had little subtlety as to its purpose.

The event, in their view, was an overt show of his support among well-heeled Republican donors. Speakers included billionaires like the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, the billionaire investor Bill Ackman, the oil developer Tim Dunn and Marc Rowan, the chief executive of the investment firm Apollo Global Management.

Some donors tied to the event have bristled at the way the Scott team and the news media have implicitly positioned them as endorsers of a Trump-Scott ticket, according to a person close to these donors. In reality, this person said, many people signed onto Mr. Scott’s event believing that he is likely to be the next powerful chair of the Senate Banking Committee. An aide to Mr. Scott declined to comment.

There was not much talk from Mr. Scott about the vice presidency explicitly, or even Mr. Trump, at the event, according to two attendees. And though he drew big potential donors, many big Scott supporters say privately they are pessimistic about his chances in the veepstakes.



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