By last summer, the twenty-something billionaire crypto executive and emerging man-about-Washington, Ryan Salame, had been looking for a way out as a top executive at FTX. He felt exhausted by the long days, was anxious to spend more time in the U.S., and was continually butting heads with other FTX executives. In October, Salame finally pulled the trigger. His decision to resign was never announced, or reported, but it was more than a year in the making: He had been somewhat withdrawn ever since moving to the Bahamas in late 2021, in what was intended to be a “retirement” for one of Sam Bankman-Fried’s key deputies after amassing a miraculous fortune, before S.B.F. moved the entire company there.
Salame always stood out as the linen-and-loafered bro among the Math Camp crowd that surrounded S.B.F. He wasn’t exactly an effective altruist, the prevailing ideology among the core FTX set, but he was drawn to power and had a taste for nice things. Salame, as I’ve reported over the years, was personally a Romney Republican, and someone who wouldn’t be caught dead at some lame G.O.P. fundraising event. But his infatuation with Sam was undeniable. And so when S.B.F. and the rest of the E.A.s, including Sam’s brother Gabe, and the top Bankman-Fried aide Michael Sadowsky, saw an opportunity for the movement to influence conservative thought leadership—namely, by electing Republicans who would counter Trump, stave off nuclear war, and yeah, who were crypto-friendly, too—Salame played ball.
He embraced the task of becoming the Republican advance man for S.B.F., discovering that the game of politics could be genuinely fun, especially for the wealthy. Salame put some $15 million into a super PAC during the 2022 G.O.P. primaries with the intention of electing more moderate Republicans. But toward the middle of the year, he started dreaming bigger. He hired a strategist, Tyler Deaton, to serve as his donor-advisor, and to help acquaint him with the big fish like Mitch McConnell. People at Jeff Roe’s firm talked openly about him as the next big thing. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Michelle Bond’s unsuccessful congressional run exposed him to a whole gamut of MAGA types, like Donald Trump Jr. and George Santos. Although she lost badly, Bond was being cultivated by G.O.P. fundraisers as a player, too.