Trump’s Secret Weapon Is a TikTok Billionaire Who Used to Spurn Him

Politics

Billionaire GOP megadonor Jeff Yass was a prominent Never Trumper. This year, he’s leaving all that behind.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Eddie Malluk.

Monday was a very good day for Donald Trump’s pocketbook. Not only did a New York appellate court slash the $454 million bond he owed in his civil fraud lawsuit by more than 60 percent, but shares of Digital World Acquisition Corp., which merged with the former president’s Trump Media & Technology Group last week, jumped 30 percent. Trump’s net worth, in turn, surged to $6.5 billion, vaulting him for the first time to Bloomberg’s list of the 500 richest people in the world. Per the publication, it was “the single-greatest day on record for the former president’s wealth.”

High on the list of people to thank for Trump’s newfound—albeit temporary—financial haleness is Jeff Yass, the billionaire Wall Street financier. Yass has found his name in the news quite a bit lately, all for Republican-politics-type reasons, and it looks as if he could even be primed to be the newest billionaire to take a high-level role in a possible Trump administration. It’s a radical reversal for a political megadonor who has long been known as a Never Trumper.

The Digital World Acquisition Corp. merger with Trump’s Truth Social had Yass’ fingerprints all over it. As the New York Times reported, “Yass’s trading firm, Susquehanna International Group, owned about 2 percent of Digital World Acquisition Corp., which merged with Trump Media & Technology Group on Friday,” making it the single largest institutional shareholder of the company behind that merger. This means that—assuming Susquehanna still owns those shares—Yass’ firm is now one of the largest institutional shareholders of Trump’s social media company. (The financial boost for the former president, coming at a time of acute legal and financial distress, may prove temporary as the stock price goes down; also, Trump is currently prohibited from selling his shares.)

But that’s not the only reason Yass has been in the news, nor is it his only social media and Trump entanglement of note.

Earlier this month, Trump made waves when he reversed course on his feelings about the TikTok ban that has been making its way through Congress. Long supportive of that policy, Trump abruptly went back on it, saying that a ban would only help Facebook and that there are a lot of “young kids on TikTok who will go crazy without it.”

That about-face came just days after Trump met with Yass at a Club for Growth donor event in Florida. Where that comes together is on Yass’ balance sheet: Yass was an early investor in TikTok and remains a major shareholder in the company. According to the Wall Street Journal, Susquehanna owns a 15 percent stake, worth an astronomical $21 billion as of last year. (Yass personally holds 7 percent of the company.)

As Reuters reported: “The U-turn on TikTok amid a major cash crunch led to speculation that Trump may be trying to court Yass.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Yass prompted a sudden change of heart in a presidential contender: He donated $4.9 million to Vivek Ramaswamy’s American Exceptionalism PAC in the second half of 2023, a period in which Ramaswamy went from calling TikTok “digital fentanyl” to opposing a ban.

Yass, the richest man in Pennsylvania, with a $27 billion net worth, is a longtime Republican megadonor. His donations to local politics in Philadelphia and campaigns across Pennsylvania have made him one of the most consequential political forces in a purple state with some very blue cities. His involvement in national and high-profile statewide races has ramped up steadily; he donated $47 million to Republicans in the 2022 midterms, making him the third-largest conservative donor in the entire country, a near-tenfold increase over the $5 million he spent on the 2016 cycle.

Still, he has, for years, held out on donating to Trump, one of the few Republicans he very pointedly hasn’t supported.

But in 2024, Yass seems to be whistling a different tune. Even this early in the year, he is already the largest individual political donor in this election cycle, having laid out $46 million for conservative candidates and causes. Yass is also spending in one Democratic primary: He has donated to Moderate PAC, a super PAC that is elevating Bhavini Patel over incumbent Squad member Summer Lee in Pennsylvania’s 12th District.

Yass’ connection to Club for Growth, the high-powered conservative super PAC, is consequential as well. That group has often been at odds with Trump in the past but looks as if it may be on its way to burying the hatchet with the former president. (Also, former Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway is now on the payroll at Club for Growth as a TikTok lobbyist.) The group will certainly be one of the top spenders in this presidential cycle.

Does all this mean a top job for Yass in Trump’s Cabinet should he win reelection? Bloomberg pegged him as a favorite for treasury secretary, which would make the Steve Mnuchin comparisons even more direct. This is Trump we’re talking about, so it’s highly believable that his appointments would be exactly this transactional. Yass just helped Trump with a huge financial backstop at one of the most critical points in his distressing and expensive legal drama. There’s no reason to think he won’t be rewarded thusly.

It’s likely too that Yass has plenty to say about the policy priorities of an incoming Trump administration, in which tax cuts are sure to be at the top of the list. As ProPublica has reported, Yass is also one of the country’s most decorated tax dodgers, exceptionally evasive even compared with other Wall Street billionaires. The publication notes that Yass, who charted over $1 billion in tax savings in recent years, “paid an average federal income tax rate of just 19%, far below that of comparable Wall Street traders.”

The evolution of Yass, from known Never Trumper to possible Trump ally and appointee, is a parable of Republican politics. A number of financiers once strongly at odds with the former president seem to be inching ever closer to embracing him as Election Day nears. Yass hasn’t seized the spotlight or made himself the face of this trend—yet. But it seems certain that his is a name that will appear more and more often as the Trump campaign revs up to November.

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Alexander Sammon