Nikki Haley’s campaign manager warned influential donors Tuesday that the GOP would lose control of the U.S. House of Representatives if Donald Trump is the party’s presidential nominee, leaning into concerns about down-ballot races as some anti-Trump Republicans view the fight over Congress as a better investment than the presidential race.
Speaking to the same group behind closed doors, one of Trump’s top advisers delivered a data-heavy presentation about why Republican financiers should get on board as he barrels toward the nomination — charting out how he could win enough delegates to clinch the nomination early this spring. Susie Wiles, who gave the presentation in Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday, and other top Trump advisers have argued that Haley has no path forward and that money spent to elevate her diverts resources that could be used to beat President Biden in the general election.
The dueling presentations, which were described by people with knowledge of the remarks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private comments, reflected the starkly contrasting positions the final two Republican White House hopefuls are in after the first two nominating contests. Trump is in a commanding position and looking to further consolidate his power after a pair of dominating wins, with many party leaders seeing him as the presumptive nominee. Haley, fighting for her political survival with a path to victory that has all but closed in the eyes of many strategists, has ramped up her attacks on Trump, trying different lines of attack aimed at raising doubts about how he would fare in November. She faces long odds — even in her home state of South Carolina, where she’s now focusing.
Top advisers to Haley and Trump made their cases to members of the American Opportunity Alliance (AOA), which includes some of the GOP’s most influential donors. Last fall, the group summoned representatives of Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), then seen as Trump’s most formidable opponent, to map out their strategies and how they intended to defeat Trump. But DeSantis is out of the race, and Haley’s team is trying to convince donors they still have a path, as many Republicans rally behind Trump and turn toward the general election.
On Tuesday in Palm Beach, Haley’s campaign manager Betsy Ankney argued that Trump would lead the GOP to further losses and hurt the rest of the 2024 ticket, according to people familiar with the presentation. Beyond the House, Ankney stressed the importance of maximizing GOP gains in the Senate in 2024, while Democrats are defending many seats, because the map will get much tougher in subsequent years, one person said.
Republicans controlled Congress for the first half of Trump’s term, then lost the House in 2018. The GOP gained some seats in 2020 even as Trump lost and narrowly took control in 2022 — but fell short of the “red wave” some analysts had predicted, leading many in the party to blame Trump.
One person familiar with the Haley campaign presentation said Ankney recapped a week in which Trump lashed out at Haley — devoting much of his New Hampshire victory speech to criticizing her — then suffered a major legal blow, ordered by a jury to pay more than $83 million for defamation.
A spokesman for Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a campaign memo earlier this week, Trump advisers Chris LaCivita and Wiles argued that Haley and her allies “are aiding and abetting Joe Biden by staying in the race.”
Haley has the backing of some deep-pocketed donors as she battles the former president in her home state, which will hold its primary on Feb. 24. But even some supporters acknowledge that an upset appears unlikely.
Though a number of AOA donors had been eager to move on from Trump, both Wiles and Ankney were “warmly received” in their back-to-back presentations, according to a person familiar with the presentations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting — which reflected the growing sense that Trump is cruising toward the nomination. Top GOP donors in the room on Tuesday for both presentations included Paul Singer, Charles Schwab and Betsy DeVos, Trump’s former education secretary.
Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, the hedge-fund billionaire who is one of the most influential GOP donors, revealed on Tuesday that he donated $5 million earlier this month to the super PAC aligned with the Haley campaign, SFA Inc. The donation was first reported by Puck News. During an interview with CNBC at the MFA Network Miami conference Tuesday, Griffin called Haley a “tremendous candidate” and said he believed that she would “run away with the general election” — adding that he wished both parties could have “a candidate of a younger generation.”
But Griffin also said he wasn’t sure that Haley’s talents would “get her where she needs to get to in South Carolina and thereafter” and suggested that if Trump won the nomination, Griffin would focus on Senate and House races and local contests in Florida, where he lives. He said he wants to support “America First” candidates, echoing a Trump rallying cry.
Griffin has been critical of Trump and previously said he would not back him in 2024. But on Tuesday he complimented Trump’s “record of success” and said he believed that most Americans would feel “safer with Trump as president than we do right now.” He said efforts to remove Trump from ballots have made him a “martyr.”
Donors in the American Opportunity Alliance include Kelly and Joe Craft, and members of the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs.
In a statement Tuesday, Griffin praised Haley and said that “While voters decide on who will serve as the Republican Party’s nominee for President, I will continue my focus on actively supporting U.S. House and Senate candidates prioritizing economic freedom and a strong defense of America at home and abroad.”
Griffin has also donated $10 million to the super PAC supporting David McCormick’s effort to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in Pennsylvania and $5 million to a super PAC supporting Tim Sheehy, a Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate in Montana.
The large political network led by conservative billionaire Charles Koch put its weight behind Haley late last year and is still supporting her but also looking toward House and Senate races.