Oil tycoon Harold Hamm cuts Trump support while backing DeSantis, Haley

Header photo of supporters of Nikki Haley, candidate for President in 2024. Photo: Twitter @NikkiHaley

Harold Hamm, the billionaire wildcatter and major GOP donor, held a difficult phone call in May: He told his longtime friend Donald Trump that he didn’t think the former president could win the 2024 general election.

That’s why Hamm hasn’t opened his checkbook for Trump in this campaign cycle, instead throwing his dollars behind other Republican candidates including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.

He has given DeSantis and Haley the maximum $6,600 donation each, Federal Election Commission records show. Hamm also gave $5,000 to Haley’s leadership PAC.

Hamm’s pivot comes as other prominent donors have made a similar break from Trump, despite his emergence as the primary contest’s clear front-runner. Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman and Interactive Brokers Group founder Thomas Peterffy have both said they won’t back Trump’s third bid for the White House.

In an interview this month in Oklahoma City, the world’s 76th-richest person described breaking the news to Trump.

“I had to be honest and forthright, as I’ve always been,” said Hamm, who added that it was the first time he’d spoken with Trump in a while. “I told him we’ve been friends for a long time, I wanted to continue to be friends. He was disappointed. Hopefully we can be friends in the future.”

Hamm was more than just a fount of money for the Trump campaign: He backed the former president enthusiastically enough that he spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention in support of him and more recently advised Trump on energy matters. Hamm was even considered for a high-ranking energy post in Trump’s administration.

The pair first met at an election-results watch party for Mitt Romney years ago, Hamm wrote in a book titled “Game Changer” that’s due to be published Tuesday. Since 2016, he donated $769,400 to Trump Victory, which benefited the former president’s campaign, the Republican National Committee and state parties. That total includes $300,000 Hamm gave to Trump’s reelection effort.

Hamm said he advised Trump to get behind another GOP contender if the candidate also concluded he couldn’t beat President Joe Biden next year.

“You need someone of good character, high quality that can lead this nation,” Hamm said, seated in a brown-and-white cowskin chair in his office. “You also need somebody the independents can vote for out here, somebody that’s not going to further divide America.”

Still, Hamm hasn’t totally closed his door to Trump.

On Sunday, (July 30, 2023), he attended a two-hour dinner with Trump at the former president’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J., according to two people familiar with the meeting. One of the people familiar said Hamm expressed support of Trump’s energy policies from his first term.

A spokesperson for Hamm declined to comment on the details of the dinner, only saying via text message: “As he said, he will meet with anyone running for the office to continue to share the importance of American energy and its impact on the world.”

Hamm’s openness to other candidates took him on May 4 to the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, Fla., to meet with DeSantis for more than an hour. Hamm said he came away feeling impressed.

“I want someone who understands how important it is to have energy independence for this nation; certainly DeSantis understands that,” Hamm said. “He’s smart as a whip.”

Since then, DeSantis’s presidential bid has had a rocky ride: His launch event was marred by tech glitches and, more recently, donors have grown concerned about soaring expenses and his failure to gain more traction in polls.

At the Sunday dinner with Trump, Hamm expressed considerable concern about the recent spate of negative headlines surrounding DeSantis, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Hamm said in the interview he is also supporting Doug Burgum, the long shot GOP primary contender who is governor of North Dakota – the state where Hamm built his fortune using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to access previously untapped crude oil reserves. He gave $2,500 to Burgum’s gubernatorial campaign in 2017.

“I didn’t know Governor Burgum when he first ran up there,” said Hamm. “I was like ‘Governor Who?’ ”

The Continental Resources chairman’s giving doesn’t stop there: He said he is backing former vice president Mike Pence. In his book, Hamm wrote that Trump “didn’t stand with many of those who stood with him.” He praised Pence for his loyalty in the interview.

Hamm’s giving strategy could get more selective as the field winnows. Ultimately, Hamm said he would support whoever got the GOP nomination in the general election – even if that’s Trump.

“You can go on and on about several of these candidates,” Hamm said. “You can’t be involved with all of them, but certainly until the process narrows down, we can support some of them.”

Hamm is not just focused on the current slate of presidential candidates. The company he controls gave $10,000 this year to the leadership PAC of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin – dollars that could be deployed to flip his state’s legislature to Republican control in November.

Over the course of his career, Hamm has spoken with six U.S. presidents. To his frustration, he has not been able to add Biden to that list.

His last interaction with the Biden administration came in January of last year when he flew to Washington to meet with climate envoy John Kerry and others at the State Department. Hamm said in his book that he became “a bit animated” after Kerry said the oil industry was subsidized. Hamm said he has drilled more dud wells than anyone alive today and no one paid him “a nickel” for them.

Since that meeting, Hamm said he has not heard from anyone in the administration.

“When the Biden administration was panicking about gasoline prices, did they call me? No,” he wrote in the book. “They called Maduro in Venezuela, flew to Saudi Arabia, sent a fax to Iran and forwarded a purchase order to Putin. They would rather talk to an ayatollah in Iran than a Harold Hamm, American oil and gas producer.”



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