A GOP megadonor says he's not 'happy' Trump is leading the 2024 race. Here's why he's still trying to get him elected

Bernie Marcus endorsed Trump but says he likes Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis.

November 28, 2023, 9:05 AM

A major Republican donor told ABC News that while he's not necessarily "happy" that former President Donald Trump is the leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, he explained in an in-depth interview Monday why he's doing "everything" he can to get Trump elected in 2024.

Bernie Marcus, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot who supported Trump in his first two bids for president, said that he's "never been as vocal" as he is today in his support for Trump -- largely because he's leading the polls.

"I'm not happy," said Marcus, 94, when asked if he was happy Trump is leading the pack. "I like Nikki Haley. I think she's great."

Of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Marcus said, "I think that the governor is well qualified. I live in Florida. I watched his policies here. He's a strong individual."

Marcus told ABC News that he had originally planned to leave politics, but returned in 2024 due to what he said were the failures of the Biden administration. Now, he says that "the country needs [Trump] desperately."

"I really wanted to get the hell out of politics," said Marcus, who co-founded Home Depot in the 1970s and went on to lead the home improvement giant until his departure from the company in 2002. "But in 94 years, I've gone through a lot of presidents -- Republicans and Democrats -- and frankly, I don't ever remember a time like this. Our country is in peril."

Still, Marcus said that he would be "very happy" if either Haley or DeSantis won the GOP nomination -- and he would switch his support if they did. But, he said, "the question is, who's going to get nominated? That's the issue."

PHOTO: Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus speaks prior to a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Georgia Aquarium,  Nov. 19, 2005, in Atlanta.
Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus speaks prior to a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Georgia Aquarium, Nov. 19, 2005, in Atlanta.
Barry Williams/Getty Images

"I don't think that anybody is going to beat Trump in the nomination," Marcus said.

Despite his praise for Trump's leading opponents, Marcus was steadfast in his support for Trump and his economic and foreign policies.

"I'm supporting Donald Trump because he has the experience, he has the policies," Marcus told ABC News. "And if it wasn't for his personality, he would probably be the best president we've ever had."

Marcus said he has since personally spoken to Trump about his "brash" style, which he described as "abusive."

"What I say to you, I say to him," Marcus said. "I have had conversations with him and I will have conversations with him in the future ... The fact that he's abusive on a lot of people rubs people the wrong way. If he would just concentrate on policies, I think he'd be a stronger candidate and would appeal to more people."

Unlike some other donors who were turned off by Trump's handling of Jan. 6, 2021, Marcus defended some of Trump's actions, saying he "didn't incite people to rip walls down." But he also criticized him for his speech before the riot and for not doing more to stop it.

"I don't agree with what he said on Jan. 6. He could have, I think, settled things down easier," said Marcus. "He should have been big enough and smart enough to say, 'I lost and that's the end of it,' but that's not his personality."

Marcus would not disclose how much he planned to donate to Trump's campaign, but said it would be "in line" with what he has contributed in the past.

"Trust me, what I give to Trump will not be an enormous amount of money," Marcus said. "I'm not one of his key supporters, you can bet on that."

Marcus has been one of Trump's biggest donors over the years, donating $10 million to a pro-Trump super PAC in the final months of the 2020 campaign, and $7 million to conservative super PACs supporting Trump during the 2016 general election. He also gave nearly $400,000 to Trump's joint fundraising committee, which split the donation between the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee.

"I don't do any fundraisers, but I do make calls on his behalf, and no matter where I go, people ask my opinion," Marcus said, adding that his goal is to "get the word out there and try to influence people, to say he's an honest guy, this guy does a lot for the world. And I have to trust his judgment."

Marcus joins numerous other Republican donors who are circling back to Trump after expressing their disapproval with his personality or his challenging of the 2020 election results.

Other GOP donors are working to find a challenger to coalesce behind. ABC News recently reported that Americans for Prosperity Action -- the advocacy organization backed by billionaire conservative Charles Koch -- plans to endorse a Republican alternative to Trump in the coming weeks, ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

The group announced plans to oppose Trump back in February, based, in large part, on concerns about his ability to defeat Biden. But Trump has surged in national polling since then.

Other GOP donors are still sitting on the sidelines.

"There are people I've spoken to that are still sitting on the fence, that don't know what to do. They dislike the person Trump, but they recognize that the talent is there," Marcus said, adding that he believes his endorsement could help the former president.

"My endorsement helps him in a lot of ways, with people who are sitting on the borders," he said.

Though he has now dedicated himself to doing all he can to get Trump reelected, Marcus said he was hoping to focus on his philanthropic efforts, where his namesake foundation has given over $2 billion to fund initiatives including medical research and helping veterans.

The Marcus Foundation recently donated $35 million to help fund a state-of-the-art blood center in Israel, which was pressed into service in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, according to an Associated Press report. Meanwhile, Marcus' autism center in Atlanta is working on a first-of-its-kind device to diagnose autism as early as 16 months, he said.

"So we're talking about saving a lot of lives, which is the one thing we're dedicated to at the Marcus foundation" Marcus said. "Certainly it's changing the way people are being treated medically around the world."

In 2010, Marcus and his wife Billi signed the Giving Pledge, a charitable initiative founded by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet encouraging the world's wealthiest individuals to give away the vast majority of their wealth to philanthropic ventures. But -- like his political donations -- Marcus says his philanthropic funding can always change.

"If outcomes are not achieved, we don't hesitate to withdraw funding," Marcus wrote in his public letter announcing his pledge to give away 90% of his wealth. "Our money has value and it took lots of hard work to accumulate. I don't just write checks -- we try to make the organizations we fund better."

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