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Billionaire Ken Griffin, former DeSantis donor, on sidelines for GOP presidential primary

Scott Mlyn | CNBC
  • Billionaire and Citadel CEO Ken Griffin says he is sitting on the sidelines for the 2024 Republican presidential primary.
  • Griffin explained that so far he's not impressed with what he's seeing from the alternatives to the Republican front-runner in former President Donald Trump and has yet to decide who he plans to help.
  • As for Ron DeSantis, Griffin doesn't understand the strategy of the Florida governor's presidential campaign and takes issue with the battle being waged with Disney.

Billionaire and Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, a major Republican donor, says he is sitting on the sidelines of the GOP presidential primary and not supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who he backed in 2022.

Griffin is not impressed with what he's seeing from the alternatives to front-runner Donald Trump and has yet to decide who he plans to help, he said in an interview with CNBC's Sara Eisen set to air Monday at 8:00 p.m. ET.

"I'm still on the sidelines as to who to support in this election cycle," Griffin said. "Look, if I had my dream, we'd have a great Republican candidate in the primary who was younger, of a different generation, with a different tone for America. And we'd have a younger person on the Democratic side in the primary, who would have his message for our country."

With two younger, fresher candidates, "We'd have a debate around ideas and principles and policies to make this a great nation," he said. "We're not having that dialogue right now."

Griffin has an estimated net worth of $35 billion, and he gave more than $100 million during the 2022 midterms to a mix of a state and federal candidates, with almost all of it going toward Republicans. Griffin gave $5 million in 2021 to a political action committee backing DeSantis' successful reelection bid, according to state campaign finance records.

His sidelining in the GOP primary means, at least for now, one of the party's biggest contributors will not be putting his considerable financial resources toward a candidate challenging Trump's enormous advantage.

The former president leads the primary field by at least 50 percentage points, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll.

Each day that passes with donors like Griffin staying out of the Republican primary is a day the money race accrues to Trump's benefit.

"As the presidential campaigns unfold, I am assessing how the policies of each candidate will address the challenges facing our country," Griffin said later in a statement to CNBC. "I care deeply about individual rights and freedom, economic policies that encourage prosperity and upward mobility, all children having access to a high-quality education, ensuring our communities are safe, and a strong national defense."

As for DeSantis, Griffin doesn't understand the strategy of the Florida governor's presidential campaign.

Before the Florida governor launched a run for the White House, Griffin said "our country would be well-served by [DeSantis] as president."

But not anymore. "I don't know his strategy," Griffin said, referring to DeSantis' 2024 campaign. "It's not clear to me what voter base he is intending to appeal to."

The latest Quinnipiac poll shows DeSantis with 12% of support versus Trump's 62% in the Republican primary.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis arrives ahead of the ceremony marking the 22nd anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, in New York City, U.S., September 11, 2023.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis arrives ahead of the ceremony marking the 22nd anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, in New York City, U.S., September 11, 2023.

Griffin praised DeSantis for how he governed Florida during his first term, calling it, "phenomenal," but added, this "hasn't been how this last few months have played out."

One of his current issues with DeSantis' second term as governor is the war he has waged against Disney. "The ongoing battle with Disney, I think, is pointless," said Griffin. "It doesn't reflect well on the ethos of Florida."

The fight between DeSantis and Disney started last year, when the company said it opposed Florida's so-called Don't Say Gay bill, which forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for students in public school.

After Disney came out against the bill, DeSantis and his allies targeted the special tax district that had allowed Disney to effectively self-govern its Orlando-area theme parks for decades. Disney and DeSantis are now locked in dueling lawsuits.

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