Biden’s Biggest Donors Left Powerless to Sway Him to End Bid

(Bloomberg) -- They pride themselves on being doers; taking decisive action at crucial inflection points and anticipating major power shifts.

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Yet in the midst of one of the biggest crises ever to strike the Democratic Party, Wall Street’s most influential donors are resigned to watching and waiting like much of the rest of the country.

The view within Manhattan circles, one top Wall Street executive said on Monday, is largely unchanged since Joe Biden’s June 27 debate: A change at the top of the ticket will boost the Democrats’ chances of beating Donald Trump. That’s even as the president pledged to fellow party members he will remain in the 2024 race, seeking to quell dissent within his ranks as lawmakers return to Washington.

But what’s clear to these ultra-rich bankers and investors is that there’s no obvious path to making the change happen themselves. Some also see sitting on the sidelines as a savvy option, wanting to avoid fueling a narrative that financiers are pushing Biden out.

Money usually talks — but, perhaps, not in this case. Biden’s political operation has some $240 million on hand, and efforts from those like Mike Novogratz to drum up funds for a yet-to-be-determined alternative have thus far fallen far short of that kind of figure.

The senior Wall Street executive, who requested anonymity to speak freely about private conversations, said he’d still bet that there are too many voters who worry about Biden’s age for the president to remain in the race. But, mainly, he’s taken to voicing concerns to family and friends, convinced that only Democratic leaders like Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries can turn the tide.

Billionaire Bill Ackman, on the other hand, took to X to publicly lay out his view of the state of play. Ackman opposed Biden in the Democratic primary, supporting long-shot challenger Representative Dean Phillips.

“Absent a more serious health incident between now and the election, it now seems eminently clear that Biden will be the candidate,” he wrote. Ackman said that if the general-election matchup was “Biden vs Trump, I am definitely voting Trump.”

Biden’s Response

Among Washington observers, the feeling is that the next few days will be critical for Biden’s candidacy. Already, at least nine House members have called for him to step aside, and the House Democratic caucus will meet Tuesday morning, which could lead to more defections.

There’s a feeling of inevitability that Biden will bow out, one donor said, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations. The current parlor game is when and how it will eventually come to pass, the person said.

Biden, 81, wrote in a letter to the group Monday that he is “firmly committed to staying in this race, to running this race to the end, and to beating Donald Trump.”

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, he dared anyone who thinks he shouldn’t seek reelection to challenge him at the Democratic convention.

“I don’t care what the millionaires think,” Biden said on MSNBC Monday. “I want their support but that’s not the reason I’m running.”

Still, the campaign needs wealthy donors’ money with Trump and the Republicans now raising similar sums as the Democrats. Biden, along with campaign chair Jennifer O’Malley Dillon and Maryland Governor Wes Moore joined a call with some of the campaigns largest contributors on Monday.

“The party has spoken. The Dem nominee is me,” Biden said. “We can’t waste any more time being distracted.”

Donations to the campaign have thinned in recent days, with some wealthy donors saying they will withhold any future contributions until Biden is off the ticket, according to a person familiar with the fundraising efforts. The Biden campaign has said that grassroots contributions surged following the debate and reported raising more in June than any other month.

Biden’s sizable war chest had been a selling point for donors, especially compared to Trump’s cash-poor campaign through the primaries. But since clinching the nomination, Trump has caught up and surpassed Biden, and now has $285 million cash on hand, according to his campaign.

Unlike Trump, who’s spent little on television or offices in battleground states so far, Biden’s campaign is employing an expensive strategy. The campaign alone booked $48 million in advertising time last month, according to AdImpact.

“I know a lot of donors who are very unhappy and aren’t going to spend money on the campaign,” said Vin Ryan, founder of Schooner Capital and a longtime Democratic donor. “A lot of money will be diverted to House and Senate races.”

Ryan said a Biden replacement would likely get an outpouring of donor support, with many willing to bet on a younger and more articulate candidate.

Two Democratic fundraisers, who asked not to be identified to discuss private conversations, said they’ve been advising donors to shift their donations to competitive House races even before the debate, but now worry that with Biden atop the ticket, Democratic congressional candidates will lose en masse to Republicans.

“Let’s not blindly follow our friend off a cliff,” Novogratz wrote on X Monday. “It’s time to move on from the gerontocracy.”

Alternative Investments

The lack of real power to force Biden out, combined with a desire to prevent a Trump victory, has led some Democratic donors to launch long-shot efforts to find a replacement. Bill Harris, the former chief executive officer for Intuit Inc. and Paypal Holdings Inc., has personally funded polling about voter views of Biden’s age in swing states. Harris contributed to Biden in 2020, but has decided to not give to him this cycle.

Georgetown University professor Rosa Brooks and investor Ted Dintersmith have also concocted a plan for a “blitz primary” that would involve celebrities — such as Oprah Winfrey, Taylor Swift and Stephen Curry — introducing candidates to voters before conducting a snap election to pick a Biden successor.

The plan is novel, but unlikely to come to fruition, even by the authors’ own admission.

“While we hope for help from Lord Almighty,” the plan says, in an apparent nod to Biden’s Friday interview with ABC, in which he said he’d only step down if God told him to, “he/she helps those who help themselves. We need to act. Now.”

(Updates with details on Bill Ackman, Bill Harris in paragraphs 7-8, 23)

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