The Other Bernie Revolution

Bernie Marcus, who has gifted $65 million and counting to G.O.P. causes over the years, remains a top target for both Trump and DeSantis during this cycle’s shadow primary. Photo: Joe Schildhorn/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot, turned 94 years old last week. He can’t golf anymore, after experiencing some health scares, but friends say he is still as compos mentis as he was during the last decade of Republican politics, when the multi-billionaire made a name for himself as one of the party’s most ambitious, most prolific contributors. Marcus, who has gifted $65 million and counting to G.O.P. causes over the years, remains a top target for both Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis during this cycle’s shadow primary. But both camps are watching him warily, not only because of his deep pockets, but also because he may be a bellwether for the donors who learned to live with Trump in ’16 and ’20. Will they sign up again when, for the first time in eight years, other credible choices are on the table? 

And it hasn’t escaped attention that Marcus is proving to be skittish about backing Trump again in 2024. In his first public comments about the presidential primary, Marcus told me that, so far, he’s declining to make a commitment to any candidate. “I look forward to seeing the candidate field and will much later in the political process make my decision,” he said, through a representative. “In the meantime, I am focused on many of the issues facing all of us including the opportunities and challenges we see today.” (Whatever that means.)

Marcus’s statement—no endorsement until “much later” in the G.O.P. primary—will be interpreted as a major let-down inside Mar-a-Lago. This is a guy who spent $10 million for Trump during the fall of 2020 through a pro-Trump super PAC that he assembled with his buddies Sheldon Adelson and Chris LaCivita, who is now leading Trump’s ‘24 campaign. It’s also a negative signal for Marcus’s peers in Trump’s orbit. This cycle’s Trump donor universe is widely expected to be a subset of those who backed him in 2020. Or, put another way: If Bernie Marcus isn’t excitedly backing Trump in the G.O.P. primary, it’s hard to imagine who else will be predisposed to back him again, either.