The remarks aligned with an answer Trump gave last week when asked about such a commitment. “Well, we're going to have to see what happens,” Trump said, unwilling to affirm a cornerstone of U.S. democracy.
In turn, Yahoo Finance put the question to 43 of Trump’s top business and economic allies, many of whom are billionaires who’ve contributed at least $1 million in support of his campaigns or inauguration: Should Trump allow for a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election?
The question was posed before Trump announced his diagnosis with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Three supporters responded with assurance that Trump would step down if the election ultimately delivers an unfavorable result. Those backers included billionaire grocery magnate John Catsimatidis, economist Stephen Moore, and Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy.
Meanwhile, nearly all of Trump’s wealthiest backers — including some of the nation’s most prominent business leaders — forwent the opportunity to confirm that he should accept the outcome of the election.
‘If he legitimately loses, he will step down’
While three top backers of Trump said he would leave office if the final result determines Biden has won, two of them cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election by echoing unfounded concerns about widespread voter fraud that Trump has raised on the campaign trail.
“If he legitimately loses, he will step down,” said Catsimatidis, owner of New York City supermarket chain Gristedes, who since last year has donated $350,000 to a joint fundraising committee for Trump.
“If it comes down to one state and there’s a vast amount of election fraud in that state and some Democratic Secretary of State or [other] person hits the gavel in the wrong way and says, ‘Trump, you’re done,’ I think we should wait until that state is adjudicated,” adds Catsimatidis.
When asked to respond to evidence that voter fraud is extremely rare, Catsimatidis described an incident he heard about firsthand involving mass voter fraud committed by a past presidential campaign but declined to name the source of the anecdote. “Why would I get him in trouble?” Catsimatidis said.
Moore, a potential Trump nominee last year to the Federal Reserve board who ultimately withdrew from consideration, also cited unfounded concerns of “widespread fraudulent voting” but said Trump should “of course concede” if certified results show that he has lost.
When told of evidence that voter fraud rarely occurs, Moore said: “That might be.”
“I only know what I’m reading on it,” he adds. “I acknowledge the fact that I’m not an expert on the subject.”
Moore, an economic adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, predicted that a disputed election would cause economic damage.
“If you have a disputed election, it will be bad for financial markets,” he says. “Markets don't like uncertainty. One of the many, many reasons we're a premier place in the world to invest in is we have political stability.”
Ruddy, Newsmax CEO and longtime confidant of Trump, said: “I have no doubt that if he loses, the president is going to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.”
Silence from Trump’s wealthiest backers
Billionaires Related Co. Chairman Stephen Ross, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, and Blackstone (BX) CEO Stephen Schwarzman did not respond to multiple requests for comment made through representatives. Neither did New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft. Oracle (ORCL) Chairman Larry Ellison and its CEO Safra Catz also did not respond.
Hedge fund tycoon Robert Mercer declined to comment through a representative. The same response came from Goya CEO Robert Unanue and Charles Schwab, chairman of the financial services company (SCHW) that shares his name.
To be sure, business allies often do not comment on issues centered on politicians whom they financially support. For instance, many of Trump’s wealthiest backers passed up the opportunity to defend him when Yahoo Finance asked about the impeachment inquiry last September.
Since Trump took office, business leaders have faced intense scrutiny over their ties to him. In July, Goya became the target of a boycott after Unanue praised Trump at a joint press conference. A Trump fundraiser hosted by Ross last year sparked a viral boycott of brands like SoulCycle, whose owners include the principals of Related.
Last month, vegan milk brand Oatly faced criticism on social media after it sold a stake to Blackstone, in part due to Schwarzman’s support for Trump.
Among the private sector allies of Trump who did not respond to a request for comment were some of the top donors in support of his 2020 campaign. Pan Am Systems Chairman Timothy Mellon, whose $10 million donation to a Trump-affiliated Super PAC America First Action in April was one of the year’s largest, did not respond.
Neither did Jeffrey Sprecher, CEO of the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) and owner of the New York Stock Exchange, who made a $1 million donation to America First Action in April. His wife is Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA).
Real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer, who has given $6 million to America First Action since last year, declined to comment through a representative.
After Trump declined to commit to a peaceful transition last week, top elected officials in his own party voiced an unusual, if indirect rebuke. “There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792,” tweeted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY.).
Meanwhile, Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), the third-ranking Republican in the House, said, "The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival of our Republic.”
Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter @MaxZahn_.