Fortune 100 CEOs ‘despise’ Trump, critic claims—but an insider close to the former president says he’d rather win the hearts of small businesses

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No Fortune 100 CEOs – a group that has historically leaned Republican – have donated to Former President Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign, Yale School of Management Professor Jeffrey Sonnefeld told Fortune. 

Only two donated to Trump in 2020, and zero again in 2016, according to new data from Yale’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute, which Sonnefeld heads. By contrast, 28 Fortune 100 CEOs donated to Utah Senator Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, and 29 donated to John McCain in 2018. 

The figure is just one indication that Trump has the “lowest level of corporate support” in the Republican Party’s history, Sonnefeld said. Informed by his close experience working with top CEOs – he has led discussions with the heads of PepsiCo, Ford, UPS, Verizon, and IBM, to name a few – Sonnefeld noted that many of them “despise” Trump’s social and fiscal policies. 

These CEOs, a group that is usually 65-70% Republican, are “either enthusiastically or reluctantly” going to vote for Biden instead, Sonnefeld added. He listed off about 30 top CEOs, including Melinda French Gates, David Ellison (son of Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle), and Reed Hastings, as Biden supporters. 

The idea runs contrary to several recent articles in major media outlets suggesting that business leaders are flocking back to Trump after rejecting him in 2020. Last week, Trump met with dozens of top executives and promised further corporate tax cuts. Stephen Moore, one of Trump’s closest economic advisors and (briefly) his nominee to head the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, told Fortune that he attended the meeting and the CEOs were “enthralled” by Trump. 

Economic policies

However, Sonnefeld said that top CEOs believe that the proposed tax cuts are inflationary without reductions in government spending, an idea that Moore rejected as “completely stupid.” Moore claimed that corporate tax cuts create more demand for dollars by increasing the value of foreign investment.

“When you create more demand for dollars, that means the value of the dollar increases and prices fall relative to the dollar,” Moore said. “That’s what happened after the Trump tax cut.” 

Recent economic research indicates that Trump’s corporate tax cuts did boost business investment, but not nearly enough for the additional growth to “pay for” those cuts, as Trump’s team has long claimed it would. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a full extension of the cuts, which will begin expiring in 2026, would cost $4.9 trillion over 10 years, including additional interest on the debt. The federal government’s publicly held debt stands at nearly $27.6 trillion, or roughly 108% of the GDP. 

Regardless, Sonnefeld said that corporate tax cuts are more of a concern for the ultra-wealthy, naming venture capitalist David Sacks and Timothy Mellon, the heir to the Mellon banking fortune, as constituents with interest in such cuts. Both men have supported Trump.  

If anything, Biden’s antitrust policies and support for stronger capital gains taxes, which Sonnefeld opposes, are more of a concern for the CEOs, he said. 

“Nobody’s saying that the Biden policies are perfect, and there are some problems,” Sonnenfeld said. “But they are dwarfed by the pernicious threat to inflation, economic stability, and, most importantly, democracy presented by the prospective Trump presidency.”

The CEO riseup of 2020

Many top CEOs were incredibly disturbed by Trump’s rejection of the election results, Sonnefeld said.

On the night of November 6, 2020, when Trump declared himself the winner, Sonnefeld says he received a manifold of texts and calls from worried CEOs. They wanted him to pull together a group of business leaders to write a statement affirming that Biden was the election’s true winner. 

“I figured everybody else out there has money, resources, and reputation on the line, and they must figure I have nothing to lose if it doesn’t work,” Sonnefeld said. 

He called 100 CEOs – the next morning, 94 of them showed up to a 7:00 a.m. Zoom call to draft their points. The chief executives from Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, and Walmart were there, to name a few, the Financial Times reported at the time. 

Sonnefeld declined to name any attendees, but he noted that the majority were Republican-leaning. Still, the CEOs, without their staff or press people surrounding them, openly condemned what happened the night before. 

“It was a very powerful, open discussion,” Sonnefeld said. Acting as the scribe, he wrote down a few points from the group, first congratulating Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, then noting that if someone challenges the election results, they should be sued. 

The Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and others published that statement. 

After the January 6 riots, the group met again and unanimously called for Trump’s impeachment, Sonnefeld said.

Moore declined to comment on the group or its activities, saying he wasn’t familiar with it. However, he called Trump the candidate for small businesses, adding that Biden is the candidate for big business and Wall Street interests. 

“There’s no doubt about that,” Moore said. He added that, given how superior he believed Trump’s economic policies to be compared to Biden’s, all kinds of businesses now should view Trump “much more favorably” in this election. 

“It’s a different ball game now,” he said.

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