DeSantis Plays the Silicon Valley Money Machine

Ron DeSantis
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Theodore Schleifer
July 19, 2022

A great fiction about the 2024 election season is that it hasn’t yet begun: Gavin Newsom is already running ads softly positioning his national profile in ways that would help if Joe Biden decides, after the midterms, that his advanced age relegates him to a single term. The putative Republican field, as my Puck colleague Tara Palmeri noted yesterday, is hyper-populated: Donald Trump is tempting regulators at the F.E.C., saying aloud that he has already made his decision and that an announcement is forthcoming. Meanwhile, Ron DeSantis, despite the obstacle of a reelection this fall, is wooing the sort of big-money contributors one needs to mount a Trump challenge. This week, he traveled to Utah to fundraise from some locals but also some of the country’s wealthiest people who spend their summers in and around Deer Valley. 

Silicon Valley is already listening to these entreaties and beginning to place bets, and DeSantis unmistakably has the mojo. While most NorCal leaders are liberal, of course, there still exists a sizable pot of somewhat disrespected conservative money. It may not rival what’s available in Florida, say, or Texas, but it is growing in size and influence. The heavy hitters on the scene are also no longer aristocrats like San Francisco socialite Dede Wilsey, but shrewd tech billionaires who are reshaping California politics, sometimes from Florida and Texas. And almost all of the heavy-hitters in tech worth paying attention to are singing DeSantis’s praises. 

There’s Elon Musk, who has (probably unseriously) floated spending as much as $25 million on a super PAC supporting centrists, and has said that DeSantis would waltz into the Oval against Biden and that Trump should “sail into the sunset.” Then there’s Joe Lonsdale, the venture capitalist and Palantir co-founder, who has sent $50,000 toward the Florida governor’s reelection. “He’s one of the few people who I really respect and I could really see as someone I’d be strongly behind,” Lonsdale told me recently when I asked about ‘24. Last year, he hosted DeSantis for a private dinner in Austin, where he moved during the pandemic. The two remain in touch. “If you want to support something publicly, no one in our world—on the tech side—wants to have to deal with the Trump stuff in this environment,” he continued. “I think people are pretty exhausted by that.”