In the past few days, two major Jewish GOP billionaire donors have abandoned the sinking U.S.S. Trump and turned toward the Democratic Party. FIrst, came Leslie Wexner, Ohio’s largest Republican donor, who announced that he was leaving the Party entirely. He was registering as an independent. Though he didn’t detail where he would turn in his political giving, it’s clear that it won’t be Republicans:
Wexner, the CEO of retail conglomerate L Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, announced at a leadership summit in Columbus on Thursday that he “won’t support this nonsense in the Republican Party” anymore, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
The announcement, made at a panel discussion, came the same day Obama visited Columbus before heading to a rally in Cleveland to support Democrat Richard Cordray’s run for governor.
“I was struck by the genuineness of the man; his candor, humility and empathy for others,” Wexner said of Obama.
Wexner said he’s been telling lawmakers that he is now an independent.
“I just decided I’m no longer a Republican,” he said.
Given that Obama will be campaigning intensively on behalf of Democrats for the mid-term elections, it seems likely that Wexner will consider giving to candidates the former president supports. The only downside here is that Obama is part of the corporate wing of the Party. He is definitely not a progressive. He’s long kept Sanders at a distance and treated him warily. This means that Obama’s goal is not to transform the Party. He likes the status quo. He wants candidates like Hillary Clinton running in future.
There’s no question that the Democratic Party should be able to contain multitudes if it is to return to power and regain majority status. That means there will be centrist, moderate Democrats running in regions where this political agenda works best.
But I worry about the Party élite (that includes Obama) trying to muzzle the Party’s overall move leftward as seen both in Sanders’ presidential campaign and the victories of progressive candidates for House and Senate like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The support of new converts like Wexner, if that were to happen, will strengthen this effort. In turn, that will decrease enthusiasm at the grassroots, a phenomenon which destroyed Clinton’s presidential aspirations.
Even more troubling is the case of another GOP pro-Israel billionaire, Seth Klarman, who had been the largest GOP donor in New England. He founded the Baupost Group and is a wealthy Boston hedge fund manager. He also owns the Times of Israel and two major American Jewish papers, Jewish Week (in New York and Washington). His Israel politics are Likudist and he’s a major donor to Charles Jacobs’ Islamophobic David Project, the Israel Project and other far-right Israel Lobby causes.
Unlike Wexner, Klarman hasn’t left the GOP according to this profile written by NYT resident neocon, Bari Weiss. He’s just announced he’s temporarily giving only to Democrats in order to give them a Congressional majority. He plans to give nearly $20-million in the coming election cycle. His goal is to foil Trump’s more noxious initiatives which, in Klarman’s view, destroy American democracy. Clearly, he approves of Trump’s economic policies and doesn’t object to the their tilt favoring the wealthy élite (like him). Nor does he object to Trump’s eviscerating environmental regulations and corporate regulation.
Klarman fancies himself a social liberal and fiscal conservative. So he’s upset by Trump’s racist pandering, his tacit endorsement of white supremacism, and his hatred of immigrants. He sees the Democrats as a check on Trump’s worst impulses.
The best that you can say on Klarman’s behalf is at least he’s not trying to fight Trump within the Party. He’s smart enough to see that the Republican leadership has gone limp in the face of Trump’s tidal wave of revolting populism. IT can’t be reformed from within. At least not now with Trump’s little hands firmly on the levers of power. Though he apparently believes it’s possible to return to the Party after it awakens from the Trump nightmare.
The real danger with a figure like Klarman is that he’s smart enough to realize that his millions give him influence in shaping the Democratic Party. He can find the type of corporatist moderate Democrats he favors, recruit them and fund them. As he told Weiss:
Mr. Klarman’s hoping, though, the Democrats hew close to the center.
“The Republicans have abandoned the middle,” he said. “The Democrats should seize that and plant their flags right there and win.”
This in turn will crowd out the progressive candidates favored by the Sanders wing of the Party. Klarman sees that just as some Republicans are fighting for the soul of their Party against Trumpsim, the Democrats are also fighting to shape the next generation. Will it continue to be the Obama-Clinton Party of gradualism; or will it be the Party of Sanders and radical change?
That’s why, though Democrats should welcome everyone who wisely abandons the Trump juggernaut, those coming over to them have their own agenda. And that agenda could stymie the Party and prevent it from moving in the direction it needs if it is to generate enthusiasm and excitement from the grassroots.