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Billionaire Republican donor Harold Hamm told Donald Trump to drop his bid for the White House and has said the party needs a candidate free of the “chaos” dogging the former president, who faces several criminal investigations.
The Oklahoma oil tycoon, whom Trump considered making energy secretary in 2016, spoke to the former president by phone in May and urged him to act as the party’s “kingmaker, a role for him to be very influential”, and back another candidate instead of seeking a return to office.
“I know he wasn’t happy,” Hamm said in an interview with the Financial Times last week, referring to his phone conversation with Trump. “That’s all I can do. How seriously he takes that recommendation, I don’t know.”
Trump and Hamm met for a private dinner on Sunday night at the former president’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. A Trump ally familiar with the dinner said the conversation had been “positive” and that Hamm had “left the door open” to future support but had not yet endorsed any candidate. A spokeswoman for Hamm confirmed that characterisation.
In a statement late last week after telling the FT about his phone conversation with Trump, Hamm hinted he would nonetheless back the former president in a general election if he was the nominee. He said: “I will support anyone who’s running against Joe Biden. Or [California governor] Gavin Newsom, or any other extreme-left candidate they can drum up.”
Trump has opened up a huge lead over other Republicans running for the party’s nomination, according to recent polls.
Hamm also said in the interview that he wanted Glenn Youngkin, the governor of Virginia, to make a bid for the White House. Hamm flew to Richmond, the state capital, to meet Youngkin this spring and met him again later in Dallas, Texas, where he urged him to enter the race.
“He did a tremendous thing, getting elected in a purple state, and he’s very popular,” Hamm said.
Youngkin, a former Carlyle executive, has sent mixed signals about whether he intends to launch an eleventh-hour bid for the White House this year.
Dave Rexrode, senior adviser to Youngkin, said: “We appreciate Mr Hamm’s support of the governor, and from a lot of others, who look at Virginia and see what can be accomplished when you’re focused on common sense results.”
Rexrode added Youngkin’s team was “working hard” ahead of Virginia’s state elections in November, when voters elect state legislators.
The comments from Hamm, one of the US oil industry’s most vocal executives, echo those made privately by others in the sector who supported Trump’s pro-fossil fuel policies but soured on him after the January 6 2021 Capitol riot and effort to overturn the 2020 election result.
“January 6 separated a lot of people in the [Republican] party . . . the fact that he wouldn’t accept the result,” Hamm told the FT. The country now needed a “clean slate” and to get away from “division and chaos”.
“Other candidates don’t have that,” Hamm said, adding that he also sought a candidate who could remain in office longer than the single four-year term to which a second Trump presidency would be constitutionally limited.
“Some of the things you can’t get around, like the four-year limit,” he said. “You need somebody that could be there for eight years to undo the damage of the Biden administration.”
Hamm has repeatedly criticised the Biden administration’s energy and climate strategy, saying it has restricted oil and gas drillers, although producers including Continental Resources — which Hamm took private last year — have reported bumper profits since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The billionaire, whose book Game Changer: Our Fifty-Year Mission to Secure American Energy Independence will be published on Tuesday, has not yet endorsed a Republican nominee. But in the interview with the FT he praised the energy policies of Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota, where Hamm pioneered the horizontal drilling techniques that sparked the shale revolution.
Campaign finance filings show that Hamm, with a net worth estimated at more than $20bn, donated $6,600 to DeSantis and his campaign in the second quarter of this year and $16,600 to a political action committee for Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina in March. He said Haley was “an inspiration to women everywhere” and would make a good vice-president.
Hamm donated $1.25mn to Trump between 2016 and 2020, according to filings. The men remained friends, said Hamm. He told the FT last year that he wished Trump had been “more loyal to his people . . . everyone around him that worked hard”.
Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington