“What matters more,” one discouraged Wall Street Democrat lamented to New York Magazine’s Gabriel DeBenedetti, “my social values or my paycheck?” After giving an overwhelming fundraising edge to Hillary Clinton in 2016, the sharp left turn by Democratic presidential hopefuls in 2020 has Wall Street funders thinking twice about their loyalties. Citing a “tremendous fear” of the sudden embrace of Democratic socialism by a number of the leading candidates, DeBenedetti reports that deep-pocketed Wall Street donors are “freaking out” after a meeting to review their options — and might give Trump another look:
“There’s tremendous fear,” said one banker who was there.The candidates who had long cultivated relationships with Wall Street — such as Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand — were struggling to gain traction and had grown more hostile to finance as their party had, too. Joe Biden, leading in early polls, had a comforting history in the Obama White House and a reputation as an Establishment Democrat but had never, until a few months ago, maintained any meaningful relationship with Wall Street, hadn’t even announced his candidacy yet, and struck many bankers as a dubious bet to beat Donald Trump. Nearly everyone else in the field, the financiers felt, was being pulled leftward by Bernie Sanders (the preposterously well-funded contender they considered too crazy to even imagine in the White House) and Elizabeth Warren (less crazy, Democrats on Wall Street think, and way more competent). …
Two years ago, Trump seemed noxious enough that Democrats (reasonably) hoped to continue growing their considerable advantage over Republicans in the New York finance set. But one GOP-driven tax cut and one leftward shift in the Democratic Party later, a worried handful of bankers is considering turning that story on its head. “They’re too far left! They’re too far left!” said Alex Sanchez, CEO of the Florida Bankers Association. “I mean, honestly, if it’s Bernie versus Trump, I have no fucking idea what I’m going to do,” one Democratic hedge funder told me. “Maybe I won’t vote.”
Or perhaps he will — but not for a Democrat. All of the antagonistic rhetoric toward corporations and capitalism has unmoored many Wall Street execs from their political loyalty to the Democratic Party. Until this cycle, Sanders looked like a fluke — a gadfly who landed in the fortunate position of not caring much what the Clinton machine did to him. Hillary Clinton sucked up all of the Wall Street cash and almost all of the other establishment donors, discouraging more moderate and traditional challengers from coming forward, including Joe Biden. Sanders simply worked around it with a grassroots campaign that appeared to be largely fueled by a distrust of the Clinton establishment.
At least, that’s what the Wall Street donor class told themselves. This year the populist bill is coming due, and it’s bad enough to start thinking about how their money could fuel the pitchfork-and-torch brigade against their own interests. The only alternative available is you-know-who:
“The anti-corporate, anti–Wall Street direction of the Democratic Party is driving Democrats into the Trump camp, which is, in most cases, the last place they want to be,” said Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, the business group that counts among its members all of the city’s major financial institutions. “The fact that he’s raised as much money as he has is a reflection of how many Democrats are holding their nose and supporting him because they feel demonized by the Democrats.” …
“Wall Street for Trump is the reverse Bradley effect,” said hedge-fund manager Anthony Scaramucci, the Republican fund-raiser who (very) briefly served as Trump’s White House communications director, referring to the theory that voters overstate their support for nonwhite candidates in polls. “They all secretly love him, but because of their clients and the polarity, they don’t want to say it out loud.”
Secretly love him? Maaaayyyybeeeee, but they certainly didn’t in 2016, secretly or otherwise. He might become their favorite in 2020 out of necessity, but don’t expect that to last if Democrats recover their senses and put the “Democratic socialists” out to pasture. If they don’t, they will shortly discover that all their friends on Wall Street didn’t get rich by prioritizing their social values over their paychecks.
How likely are they to recover their senses, though? Not likely, and it looks as though activists want to simply put a PR spin on their economic insanity. John Merline notes that some other deep-pocketed Democratic activists are trying to muddy the waters with a new campaign to call socialism “freedom.” Good luck with that, especially among Wall Street execs who can tell the difference:
Future Majority executive director Mark Riddle told Politico “If we can win back the narrative that the word ‘Democrat’ equals people who are fighting for folks who work hard every day, we can continue to win elections. If (Democrats) get defined as being about socialism … then I worry.”
Riddle’s use of the passive verb tense shows why this effort is already off to a bad start.
It’s not some outside force that is defining Democrats as socialists. It’s the Democratic party itself, which is rushing to embrace some of the most radical proposals ever put forward by a major political party.
Meanwhile, others in the party’s establishment worry that Democrats don’t have an effective economic message. Another story in Politico quotes Celinda Lake worrying that: “We don’t really have a robust national message right now” on the economy.
But Democrats do have a national message: One that involves a massive expansion of government.
Of course Democrats have had an economic message. It’s being proclaimed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, and its highest values are government intervention and redistribution. When John Frickin’ Hickenlooper of all people can’t find a way to embrace capitalism and compete in the primaries, the Democrats’ economic message is all too clear. And all too extreme.