Trump and DeSantis duel for top donors with ‘candlelight dinner’ and three-day retreat just four miles apart

Donald Trump is set to host some of his top donors at his Mar-a-Lago private club in West Palm Beach for the first fundraiser for his new political action committee ahead of the 2024 Republican presidential primary.

The fundraiser is scheduled for Thursday night – just a day before Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis is set to begin hosting his own donors only four miles away at the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach for a retreat lasting three days, according to Politico.

On Friday, Karl Rove, a former adviser to former President George W Bush, will host a donor conference in Austin, Texas attended by a number of other possible GOP presidential candidates.

The events come as the fight for conservative donors heats up while the 2024 campaign nears. So far, two candidates have announced they’re running – former President Trump and former South Carolina Governor and Trump Administration UN ambassador Nikki Haley.

Republicans looking ahead to the next presidential contest are jockeying to grow their numbers of donors and stop competitors from reaching those same funds.

Mr DeSantis is expected to attract around 150 donors to his retreat – many of them are former Trump supporters.

The Florida governor and the former president appear to be at the top of the Republican field, which is expected to grow.

Individuals involved in the process say the fight for donors is fierce and open to changes, and that many are looking to move beyond Mr Trump. Many appear to be moving into Mr DeSantis’s camp, but others are still looking around, according to Politico.

About 350 donors are expected to attend Mr Rove’s conference.

“I think they’re like a lot of people,” he told the outlet. “They might have someone who’s sort of a preliminary favourite, but they’re looking, and they want to see how they will perform.”

Ms Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, and South Carolina Tim Scott will attend the conference, in addition to others.

Some of the mega-donors listed as co-hosts of the conference include Texas beer executive John Nau; Robert Rowling, the owner of Omni Hotels; and real estate developer Harlan Crow.

The conference will be hosted at Omni Barton Creek Resort west of Austin and will be similar to the meeting Mr Rove put together in May 2021 when members of Congress from Texas spoke to prospective presidential candidates.

Mr Scott stood out during that event, speaking about his race as a Black man, in addition to talking about his upbringing.

Many of the donors co-hosting the event have been part of Mr Rove’s large number of donor connections for quite some time and a number of the candidates are thought to be arranging private meetings with some donors.

Mr Trump’s event on Thursday is intended to raise cash for his 2024 super PAC – MAGA Inc. At the start of the year, the PAC had $55m in seed money – with a lot of it coming from Mr Trump’s Save America PAC, the committee he used to fundraise over the previous two years. This is the first MAGA Inc fundraiser, Politico noted.

Filings reveal that the super PAC has received substantial donations from a number of longtime supporters of Mr Trump, such as Timothy Mellon, the chair of Pan Am Systems, a transportation company based in New Hampshire, Anthony Lomangino, a waste and recycling businessman, and Andy Beal, a banker.

Mr Trump’s PAC has started using some of its funds to organise focus groups to test attack lines against Mr DeSantis and others, according to Politico.

Supporters, including lawmakers and donors, are expected to attend the retreat hosted by Mr DeSantis. He’s expected to speak about his 2022 re-election, his agenda, such as the current battle with Disney, his move to send migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, and his fight against those he refers to as “woke” liberals. His team will brief attendees on the numbers behind his reelection.

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, among a number of other GOP figures, attended a retreat hosted by Mr DeSantis last year.

Mr DeSantis has recently published a book and he has increased his travel around the country. Donors will be looking for any clues or hints regarding his expected run. Which donors attend the event, and if they previously backed Mr Trump, will be an indicator of Mr DeSantis’s standing.

Don Tapia, a donor from Arizona, was Mr Trump’s ambassador to Jamaica. He told Politico that he’s backing Mr DeSantis after supporting Mr Trump in 2016 and 2020. He said donors are sick of Mr Trump’s attacks on the Florida governor and said the retreat would “overwhelmingly” feature former Trump backers.

“The name-calling has turned a lot of people off,” the retired electrical company executive said. “Let me tell you, we don’t like that.”