Steve Schwarzman Holds Off Giving Money to DeSantis After Meeting Him

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(Bloomberg) -- Steve Schwarzman will hold off donating money to Ron DeSantis for now, after a meeting with the expected presidential aspirant left him unconvinced of the Florida governor’s White House prospects.

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Schwarzman, a Republican megadonor, went to Tallahassee in the last few weeks to visit the governor and assess his national standing, according to people briefed on the matter. The billionaire co-founder of Blackstone Inc. is currently withholding support for anyone within the GOP field, said the people.

The decision highlights the challenges DeSantis faces as big name donors grow increasingly concerned about whether he has the skills to supplant former President Donald Trump for the GOP nomination. DeSantis’s standing in most polls has nosedived just as he inches closer toward a long-expected presidential announcement.

According to filings, Schwarzman hasn’t donated previously to DeSantis’s campaigns for governor or Congress, or to his political action committee. Thomas Peterffy, the chairman of Interactive Brokers, and New York businessman John Catsimatidis are among the longtime GOP donors who have publicly stated they are withholding support for DeSantis. Tech billionaire Peter Thiel has told associates that he won’t fund candidates in 2024, according to Reuters.

DeSantis’s move to wait until June to announce his candidacy gave Trump the opportunity to spend weeks hammering him on his record in Florida, the positions he took in Congress and his skills as a retail politician. The Trump campaign has sought to define DeSantis before he even got out of the gate.

A spokesperson for Blackstone said the company never comments on private meetings, but said Schwarzman has met with almost all of the contenders for the GOP nomination.

A DeSantis spokesman declined to comment.

Earlier: DeSantis Weighs Early June Launch for 2024 Run Amid Struggles

DeSantis is expected to announce his candidacy around June 1, according to people briefed on the timing, and he plans to make it public in his hometown of Dunedin, Florida, at the baseball field where he played in the Little League World Series and later starred for his high school team.

Schwarzman was a high-profile backer of Trump during his presidency but later distanced himself after souring on the former president’s rhetoric.

A former executive, who worked with Schwarzman for years, says the Blackstone CEO is pragmatic and wants to support a winner.

“We need to move on for both parties to the next generation of leaders,” Schwarzman said in an interview with Bloomberg’s Wall Street Week at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.

Schwarzman spent several weeks in Florida during the pandemic and was enthusiastic about the way DeSantis handled Covid-19 restrictions.

Despite his decline in GOP primary polls, recent surveys still show DeSantis either defeating or competitive against President Joe Biden in a potential head-to-head match-up.

DeSantis’s team has tried to overcome donors’ reluctance by hosting “bundlers,” individuals who raise large sums of money from different people for a candidate, at the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, according to a person briefed on the schedule. Those dinners started last week and are continuing following the end of Florida’s legislative session.

While many Wall Street executives admire his handling of the Florida economy and credit his skills leading the state through the pandemic, they are less enthusiastic about the culture wars he regularly touts in his visits across the country.

A series of missteps since the start of the year gave some donors pause. DeSantis stumbled with his position on the war in Ukraine and continues to battle the Walt Disney Co. — one of Florida’s most important employers — over his education policies.

One DeSantis adviser predicted the Florida governor would do better with donors and voters once he officially joins the field. DeSantis allies contend Trump’s riding a short-term polling bump in the immediate aftermath of his April indictment by the Manhattan District Attorney, and will ebb again.

In the meantime, the super PAC supporting DeSantis, Never Back Down, has been trying to introduce the governor to voters in early primary states through advertisements and a multipage mailer, playing up the governor’s young family and his military service. It has also started to more directly attack Trump, casting DeSantis as more conservative on policy.

“Governor DeSantis is one of the most well-liked and successful governors in American history. The impressive final tally of achievements from this year’s legislative session underscores Ron DeSantis’s ability to lead, and serves as a blueprint for America,” Never Back Down Chief Executive Officer Chris Jankowski said in a statement over the weekend.

--With assistance from Dawn Lim and Bill Allison.

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