The Larry Ellison Election

Larry EllisonLarry Ellison has been described over the years as a “thinking-with-his-heart” donor.
Larry Ellison has been described over the years as a “thinking-with-his-heart” donor. Photo: Kimberly White/Getty Images
Theodore Schleifer
April 18, 2023

As 2024 beckons, Oracle founder Larry Ellison appears poised to be the single most influential donor in the Republican primary—and maybe, depending on your politics, the single most annoying one, too. That’s not because Ellison is likely to emerge as one of the five or so largest contributors in the race, but because of his unwavering support for South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, which may position him as the longshot sugar daddy au courant. Ellison, who is worth more than $100 billion on a bad day, could be the Foster Friess to Scott’s Rick Santorum, or the Sheldon Adelson to Scott’s Newt Gingrich, extending his runway and infuriating everyone else. Ron DeSantis may have the most mega-donors, but Scott is the candidate who is most dependent on a single individual donor, giving Ellison a hell of a lot of influence over how the next year proceeds, and whether there is indeed any true financial consolidation against Donald Trump.

Then again, Ellison’s extraordinary support for Scott is what distinguishes the candidate from the likes of, say, never-gonna-happen Asa Hutchinson or Chris Sununu, who are also flirting with one percent in the polls. That financial lifeline is what makes Scott, who launched his exploratory committee last week, at least somewhat credible. Ellison’s money will give Scott, still a relatively unknown national figure, the chance to broadcast a campaign message that Scott aides see as naturally alluring, a luxury not afforded to poorer candidates. But Larryologists across Republican politics question how far he’s prepared to go to push his favored candidate: “Is he going to ride with him until the end?” wondered one Republican fundraiser. Might he close ranks with the billionaires and mega-donors agitating for a post-Trump leadership change, but who are ultimately agnostic about who takes the lead? 

Republicans are also wondering what, exactly, the flamboyant showman has in store. Scott’s team knows they’ve got a special arrow in their quiver—the world’s sixth wealthiest person—and they’ve got to figure out how to use him for maximum benefit. Historically, however, Ellison has not operationalized his wealth in the realm of politics, where his campaign moves have been driven by emotional connections and relationships more than ideology. Ellison once went nightclubbing with Bill Clinton and joked that the Constitution should be amended to give the Arkansas Democrat a third term. Since then, Ellison has grown more red-pilled and hawkish on foreign policy, inspired in part by his friendship with South Carolina’s other senator, Lindsey Graham, and by a late-in-life reconnection with his Jewish roots. He became a close friend of Benjamin Netanyahu and a major backer of Marco Rubio, another fierce defender of Israel, in 2016.