Wall Street eyes Nikki Haley as Trump spoiler



Republican donors are aiming to boost Haley while backers of President Biden fret about his chances.

Big hitters on Wall Street are lining up to support Nikki Haley’s long-shot bid to snatch the 2024 Republican presidential nomination from Donald Trump.

“There’s a desperate, desperate hunt for anybody but Trump," said one of the roughly 30 senior executives The Wall Street Journal spoke with to gauge the mood of the finance set roughly a year ahead of the election.

While Wall Street’s die-hard Democrats are sticking with President Biden, many other financiers have been casting about for an alternative to Trump, the former president they see as too unpredictable among other concerns. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s clash with Walt Disney and stilted public appearances hurt his standing, while Virginia Democrats’ statewide victories this month quashed the idea of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (and former Carlyle Group co-CEO) jumping into the race.

Attention on Haley, a former South Carolina governor and Trump’s former U.N. ambassador, intensified after Sen. Tim Scott’s (R., S.C.) unexpected exit Sunday.

Former Trump adviser Gary Cohn and UBS banker Mike Santini co-hosted a Haley fundraiser Tuesday at Cohn’s Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan. Roughly 30 guests including Aryeh Bourkoff, the founder of investment bank LionTree, paid $10,000 apiece to attend.

Haley fielded questions on topics including trade relations, economic policy and abortion. She won plaudits at last week’s Republican debate for finessing her stance on the abortion issue and calling for consensus.

Other Haley events in New York are set for Dec. 3 and Dec. 4, with the latter being organized by Santini, litigator Eric Levine and others, some of whom have ties to Elliott Management, the $60 billion hedge fund founded by Republican donor Paul Singer. They include Campbell Brown, the Meta Platforms executive and wife of Elliott public affairs chief Dan Senor, and Terry Kassel, a longtime Haley supporter who is Elliott’s human-resources head and Singer’s girlfriend. (Singer himself is still entertaining supporting candidates including Haley, DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.)

Haley, 51 years old, who already has high-profile admirers including outgoing Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, has been busy this week charming others including JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon and BlackRock’s Larry Fink. The conversation between Haley and Dimon was earlier reported by Axios.

Dimon, who leans Democratic, has told people Haley seems to understand the business world and could get things done. That tacit endorsement is rare for Wall Street’s elder statesman, as he doesn’t typically signal support for candidates. Fink saw Haley on Tuesday at a meet-and-greet with other executives.

Ken Griffin, the founder of investing giant Citadel and one of the biggest Republican donors, meanwhile, is flirting with throwing his support behind Haley, telling Bloomberg this week he was “actively contemplating" it. Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman is also still considering his options.

While Haley trails Trump by a wide margin and still sits behind DeSantis in the latest national polls, her supporters expect her numbers to rise by the Iowa presidential caucuses in January. An Iowa Poll released in late October showed Haley catching DeSantis for second place among Republicans in that state, and a new CNN survey of New Hampshire has her alone in second place there behind Trump.

“If she passes DeSantis, she’s the backup," said one financier who supports her. Given Trump’s legal troubles, “it’s not completely crazy that she could ultimately win."

A DeSantis spokesman said his campaign raised more than $1 million in 24 hours after the latest debate and has the resources it needs to grind out the battle for the nomination.

Trump’s team didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, many Democratic donors privately grumble that Biden won’t step aside even though his age is seen by many as a handicap. Still, reliable supporters such as George Soros and Blackstone’s Jonathan Gray are standing by the president—who turns 81 Monday—and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Lazard President Ray McGuire’s wife, Crystal McCrary McGuire, recently hosted Harris and supporters at their Upper West Side apartment. Biden is expected back in New York early next year.

Many are panicking behind closed doors about the incumbent’s worsening poll numbers and bristling at what they see as a tough-on-business regulatory agenda. They also worry that the balance he must strike on the war between Israel and Hamas will only hurt him as the conflict drags on. Some are floating alternatives such as Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (No one the Journal spoke to mentioned Rep. Dean Phillips, the Minnesota congressman who is actually challenging Biden for the Democratic nomination.)

Biden’s camp has pushed back on wealthy donors suggesting he step aside. “Joe is saying ‘I’m the only one who has established that I can beat Trump,’ " one of his nervous supporters said.

Complicating matters further on the Democratic side is New York City’s migrant crisis. The Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit representing the city’s business community, has been quietly urging deep-pocketed donors not to meaningfully support Biden until his team agrees to provide funding to deal with the influx or let them enter the legal workforce.

Meanwhile, No Labels, a political group supporting centrist candidates, threatens to throw both Republicans and Democrats off-balance by adding another candidate to the mix. Founder Nancy Jacobson has been in New York drumming up support.

Founded in 2009 and funded over the years by donors including Trian Fund Management’s Nelson Peltz, enthusiasm for No Labels jumped on Wall Street during the pandemic as it recruited using Zoom events. But several onetime supporters say the organization is losing steam and people worry it could help elect Trump. Peltz quit affiliating with the group years ago and is leaning toward supporting Haley.

No Labels said it was becoming clearer every day that Americans want another choice in 2024 and that is why it is working to offer a “Unity ticket" to voters if they want it.

“I’m dragging my feet on supporting No Labels," said a private-equity executive who was once an enthusiastic supporter, adding that he needed answers on how they were going to decide whether to offer up an alternative, and who. “Until I’m sure of that and I like the answer, I’ll keep waiting," he said.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) was once considered a possible No Labels candidate, and his decision not to run for re-election fed the speculation. He gets little love from the Wall Street crowd, however, and No Labels has recently made clear it was more likely to select a Republican—if it runs anyone.

The private-equity executive said his hope is that No Labels gets on every state’s ballot to pressure both parties to be more moderate, then drops out at the last minute.

Lauren Thomas contributed to this article.

Write to Cara Lombardo at and AnnaMaria Andriotis at

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