After Elon: Inside Larry Ellison’s New G.O.P.

Larry Ellison
Photo: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

When G.O.P. donors received a message, in early 2020, that Republican officials “along with Larry Ellison cordially invite you to a golf outing and reception with Donald J. Trump,” at “the private estate of Larry Ellison,” it wouldn’t have required a Talmudic analysis to assume that Ellison, himself, would be on the premises. The fundraiser, after all, appeared to be a sort of MAGA coming out party for Ellison, an increasingly partisan Republican who had never before donated to Trump. But Ellison never showed up. Those who traveled to Rancho Mirage that winter, in what turned out to be a final pre-pandemic hurrah, were surprised to learn that the Silicon Valley centibillionaire had decided to snub his own event.

It was a fitting metaphor for Ellison’s years-long hot-and-cold relationship with the Republican Party: steamy enough to host Trump, and then frosty enough to not actually attend. These days, Ellison’s commitments to G.O.P. causes are trending red hot. Last week, he was revealed as the single biggest outside backer of Elon Musk’s officially apolitical, but pointedly conservative-friendly, takeover of Twitter. Ellison, once a registered Democrat, has also donated a staggering $25 million to Republican senator and potential presidential hopeful Tim Scott, placing him alongside Peter Thiel in the upper echelon of conservative Silicon Valley mega-donors. Talking with Republican officials and other people close to Ellison, it seems likely that the effort to secure his patronage could become one of the more important dramas of the 2024 fundraising trail.

Ellison founded Oracle almost five decades ago, beginning a legendarily bitter rivalry with Bill Gates, but his visibility in the broader culture mostly owed to his extravagant purchases, such as his Woodside mansion modeled after a 16th century Japanese tea garden, or when he bought almost the entire island of Lanai—an 87,000 acre tract of prime Hawaiian real estate where he lives like a feudal lord. (Most recently, Ellison was depicted in a brief but memorable scene in Hulu’s The Dropout, standing at the bow of one of his many yachts, shouting at a young Elizabeth Holmes, “Get the fucking money!”) Now it is Ellison’s growing, and largely underreported, power in campaigns that may define his twilight years. Among the handful of tech billionaires who have become significant G.O.P. donors in recent years—Thiel, Doug Leone, David Sacks—it is Ellison who has the biggest fortune, around $100 billion at the beginning of 2022, and could have the most far-reaching impact.