Wall Street Democrats are seriously freaking out about the 2020 candidates — here's why

Wall Street Democrats are seriously freaking out about the 2020 candidates — here's why
Elizabeth Warren/Shutterstock
Elizabeth Warren/Shutterstock

New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Debenedetti has an interesting look at how Wall Street Democrats and donors, who in the past were used to having sway over the Democratic Party’s nomination process by having Democratic presidential aspirants parade before them to beg for their money, are now crapping their pants because those aspirants are more reluctant to do so as big money’s influence over politics has become distasteful among Democratic rank and file. Debenedetti provides an unintentionally hilarious quote of one donor who told him:

“Everyone wants to seem relevant,” one prominent investor told me. But for the first time he or any of his friends could remember, “we’re just not fucking relevant. We’re not that big of a deal anymore. None of us!”

Debenedetti writes that in early April these Wall Street Dems — including among them heavy hitters like investor and Obama admin alum Steven Rattner and Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin — met to discuss the 2020 Democratic aspirants. According to Debenedetti, “there’s tremendous fear” among this set.

Here’s what was really freaking them out:

Nearly everyone else in the field, the financiers felt, was being pulled leftward by Bernie Sanders (the preposterously well-funded contender they considered too crazy to even imagine in the White House) and Elizabeth Warren (less crazy, Democrats on Wall Street think, and way more competent). “She would torture them,” one banker told me. “Warren strikes fear in their hearts,” explained a New York executive close to banking leaders from both parties — so much fear that such investors often speak of the U.S. senator from Massachusetts, a former law professor and consumer advocate, as a co-front-runner with Sanders. “How do we come up with an alternative?” asked one person at the dinner.

The alternatives they discussed were other more center-left contenders like Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris, and apparently “there’s a lot of praying” among this set for Joe Biden. But even then the alternatives are still not seen as reliable enough because they, too, are perceived as getting much of their money from small donors, which means less influence for the big donors.

Now, before you all go ripping on me for sowing disunity, perhaps you should redirect your complaints towards some of the donors in this piece.

“They’re too far left! They’re too far left!” said Alex Sanchez, CEO of the Florida Bankers Association. “I mean, honestly, if it’s Bernie versus Trump, I have no fucking idea what I’m going to do,” one Democratic hedge funder told me. “Maybe I won’t vote.”


Over coffee recently in midtown, an investment pro with a long history in Democratic politics described the struggle to resist the unexpected pull of Trump. “What matters more?” he asked, looking up at me. “My social values or my paycheck?”


“The anti-corporate, anti–Wall Street direction of the Democratic Party is driving Democrats into the Trump camp, which is, in most cases, the last place they want to be,” said Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, the business group that counts among its members all of the city’s major financial institutions.

In addition to fear of Sanders or Warren potentially ending the gravy train for these fat cats, there was also fear of losing the privilege they’ve come to enjoy as the bankrollers of the Democratic Party in the past. Veteran New York Democratic fund-raiser Robert Zimmerman has a quote that’s quite revealing about the elitism and entitlement among this crowd, saying, “A lot of the donor community is worried about losing their presidential perks and ambassadorial gigs to baristas.”

This is the last gasp of the old order that people in the US and all over the world are rebelling against. Americans across the political spectrum believe big money donors have too much influence over the system and want to curtail the donations they use to influence the process. In the past they knew that Democratic politicians might pay lip service to challenging their power and wealth, but ultimately because of the power of their donations such politicians wouldn’t do anything to seriously challenge their privilege.

Many of the same donors didn’t like Trump because of their relatively liberal stance on social issues, and were probably banking on Democrats promising a return to normalcy — namely, the era when Democrats would mostly leave big finance and big business alone to stockpile as much money for themselves as humanly possible while pursuing an agenda of diversity and tolerance that many of these donors otherwise agree with.

But they’re starting to realize that the Democratic base is also feeling in a rebellious, populist mood, and that the return to normalcy these donors crave is likely not forthcoming from our side. So forced to choose between their wokeness and their money, of course they’re choosing the money — and with it they are threatening to support Trump or take their ball and go home.

So, again, if you want to complain about people dividing the Democrats, remember that it’s not the fault of the baristas these donors contemptuously refer to who are merely seeking to effect real, structural changes in our economic and political systems so that those systems will work for average Americans instead of the rich and well-connected. It’s not those like me who are pointing out the entitlement and privilege of the big donors who’ve gamed the system for so long to their advantage and our disadvantage.

No, it’s the big money donors themselves, the ones people like me have been saying Democrats should abandon because those donors don’t have the best intentions for average Americans at heart. You know, the average Americans who Democrats are supposed to stand for.


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