What DeSantis is telling big GOP donors behind closed doors

New York’s political status as a deep blue state rarely deters Republican hopefuls from casting about for wealthy backers — and Ron DeSantis is no exception.

The Florida governor — who is expected to announce his presidential campaign following his state’s legislative session — has been privately reaching out in recent months to a bevy of potential supporters in the Empire State. DeSantis visited the Long Island estate of billionaire cosmetics heir and GOP donor Ronald Lauder several months ago, two people with direct knowledge of the sit down told POLITICO.

DeSantis’ message was simple: He is the only Republican who could defeat President Joe Biden in a general election.

In meetings with other wealthy businessmen, DeSantis has been even more explicit, portraying himself as an obvious choice for anyone frustrated by the former president Donald Trump’s legal troubles and antics.

In the case of Lauder, DeSantis’ audience was well-chosen. The businessman has not been shy about his frustration with Trump, whom he backed in past races.

Through a spokesperson, Lauder declined to comment.

DeSantis’ spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

“I’m no drama. I’m no chaos,” one New York businessman said in paraphrasing the pitch the Florida governor made to other well-heeled New Yorkers. “I’m calm, cool and collected. Very focused.”

That businessman, who continues to support the former president and counts him as a friend, said DeSantis has reached out to New York real estate moguls who own property in Florida. To that end, both DeSantis and Trump attended the wedding of real estate investor Steve Witkoff’s son in Palm Beach last year.

In meetings, DeSantis emphasizes his military background and his record of getting “points on the scoreboard” as governor of the increasingly Republican state, said the person — who was granted anonymity to share details of private discussions.

“From what I’ve heard, he does not say President Trump is drama and chaos. He just says he’s not. So, what is that implying?” the person said.

The message mirrors DeSantis’ comments in a recent interview with Fox Nation’s Piers Morgan, during which he questioned Trump’s style and said: “I have what it takes to be president and I can beat Biden.”

The outreach by DeSantis provides a window into the early calculations he and his team have made as they ready themselves for a presidential run. The governor has made a name for himself castigating corporate America, while also leaning on top finance figures for financial support. His team sees New York donors as prime turf, not only for their deep pockets but also because many of them backed Trump out of convenience rather than a shared ideology with his MAGA base.

“Governor DeSantis is a conservative who is widely viewed as being far more electable than Trump in a general election. Given that he has the conservative policy minus the baggage, minus the legal problems, it’s no surprise that he would find some success among New York’s most important conservative donors,” Jon Reinish, a Democratic political consultant, said in an interview.

DeSantis, who plans to deliver remarks on Long Island Saturday evening, has recently been struggling with sagging poll numbers, news cycles dominated by Trump and an initial statement casting skepticism on support for the Ukraine war that disappointed some Republicans.

Just how big a draw DeSantis is for the New York crowd could be revealed in upcoming filings of super PACs that are boosting his expected candidacy, including one chaired by former Trump official Ken Cuccinelli. A filing for that committee is expected next month.

Interviews with six people across senior levels of Wall Street’s biggest banks revealed an intense desire for a GOP candidate who could deny Trump the nomination. While the finance industry appreciated Trump’s tax cuts — partially designed by former Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn during his time in Trump’s White House — they grew to loathe his protectionist trade policies, penchant for attacking individual companies and firing off market-shaking tweets. His unwillingness to forcefully condemn white nationalist groups further alienated him from the industry.

“Look there is no question that some of what he did was good for us,” a top executive at one of America’s largest banks said on condition of anonymity so as not to draw Trump’s fire. “But he’s bad for America. And ultimately that’s bad for us. And most of our employees can’t stand him.”

Ben White and Sam Sutton contributed to this report.

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