September 24, 2023

Former US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resort can be seen in Palm Beach, Florida on February 8, 2021.

Marco Bello | Reuters

Many senior Republican donors, lawmakers, and strategists gathered privately over the weekend in Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump’s Florida resort, to discuss how the party can crack down on American corporations and big tech, like that several participants.

Throughout the weekend, donors and strategists met to discuss a “social media and big tech strategy,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, who said he was part of those talks.

“I take part in many preservations with people who have considerable resources, and there will be new opportunities for people to receive information, exchange information and stay in touch with one another,” said Schlapp. He later defined most of these conversations as “informal” and “plans still come together”.

A major player, Republican donor Roy Bailey, told CNBC that he was interested in potentially investing in a conservative-tailored social media platform to counter Facebook and Twitter.

“I care if it can be put together properly,” said Bailey, a Texas businessman who was a key fundraiser for Trump’s 2020 campaign. “I’ve identified a potential platform and there is a lot to be done.”

The concept is still in its infancy, he said. Bailey also noted that “would be the platform on which conservatives can control their own destiny and not have to worry about censorship”. He declined to comment on the effort.

Todd Ricketts, a longtime GOP donor who is also the RNC CFO, is inducted into such a platform as a potential investor.

“He is always keen to invest in companies that revitalize established markets,” Brian Baker, a Ricketts spokesman, told CNBC.

The discussions come as the party grapples with big business leaders over new electoral laws being pushed by Republicans in states like Georgia. The tension also comes more than three years after Trump and the Republicans of Congress cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%.

Numerous business leaders have spoken out against Georgian law and others across the country, which critics say will discourage voters from voting.

Top Republicans have often publicly beaten up social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, claiming they censor conservative voices. The companies deny these allegations. Trump was banned from the two social media platforms after the deadly uprising in Capitol Hill on January 6th. He was later charged with incitement to riot but was eventually acquitted in the Senate.

There is also fighting among Republicans. Trump aimed at Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. During the portion of the RNC retreat in Mar-a-Lago on Saturday to confirm the 2020 election results.

Corporate pushback

Schlapp said there was also widespread discussion about how to respond to what conservatives see as “canceled by insurance companies and banks.”

He said some conservatives believe they are not getting banking services because some of their businesses have been deemed too conservative to get their help. Since the Mar-a-Lago meetings, Schlapp’s ACU has made efforts to drive back corporate enemies.

During the separate portions of the Republican National Committee’s donor retreat at the nearby Four Seasons that same weekend, Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Targeted companies, including big tech companies, and how they treat their employees, according to people informed of the matter.

Rubio, some people said, pushed back corporate executives and appeared to encourage party leaders to better target union workers in the upcoming midterm elections. Union workers are usually considered to be solid democratic voters.

Rubio wrote a comment in USA Today in March lambasting Amazon, praising the efforts of some of their workers to unite. The e-commerce giant won enough votes to thwart its workers’ unionization move in Alabama.

Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Told CNBC that some of the conversations he had at the retreat focused on “concerns about bias and the growing power of media and social media.”

No signs of company bosses

While CEOs and other executives of public companies don’t always come to these events, their absence from the RNC retreat was particularly noticeable.

Executives from a number of companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, including Steve Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone, and Charles Schwab, Chairman of Charles Schwab Corporation, have been the driving force behind the RNC over the past several years.

A person familiar with the RNC retreat told CNBC that there was no sign of Schwarzman at the gathering. It is also unclear whether Schwab was there.

Blackstone and Schwab representatives have not returned requests for comment.

However, this does not mean that large donors have not turned up. Many privately said they would support Trump again if he ran for president in 2024.

One person said that former Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler, who is married to Jeffrey Spokesman, CEO of Intercontinental Exchange, attended the retreat as a party funder. So did George M. Drysdale, chairman and CEO of Marsman Drysdale Group, Florida-based investor Marc Goldman, and Jane Timken, the former Ohio GOP chairman who is now running for the Senate.