Billionaire casino magnate Steve Wynn says he voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008, and he didn’t fully embrace the 2016 candidacy of longtime rival Donald Trump until after the real estate developer had already won.
Those considerations alone might seem to make Wynn an unlikely choice to lead the Republican Party’s fundraising for the 2018 midterm elections, which will be the first full electoral test of Trump’s presidency. Throw in the fact that when Wynn and Trump competed in the Atlantic City casino market two decades ago — a period that included a fierce court battle between the two — Trump called Wynn a “scumbag,” and Wynn suggested Trump was “all hat, no cattle.”
But bygones appear to be bygones. As Wynn took a break from the slopes during a weekend ski trip to Idaho’s Sun Valley, he sounded anything but ambivalent about his new assignment — even if it means that his friends will now always assume he’s dialing for dollars.
“None of my friends will return my calls anymore,” Wynn joked during a telephone interview. On Jan. 31, the 75-year-old chairman of Wynn Resorts was named the Republican National Committee’s finance chairman. That gives Wynn a key role in maintaining or expanding the party’s hold on Congress during the Trump administration.
Wynn said Trump — whom he described as a friend — personally asked him to take the post before the inauguration, adding that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, a former RNC chairman and proficient fundraiser himself, had been talking to him about it before that.
Trump is pleased to have Wynn “working to maintain the record level of organizational strength that helped to produce overwhelming success for the Republican Party last November,” said Lindsay Walters, deputy White House press secretary. “As a steadfast supporter of Republican candidates, and an incredibly successful businessman, Mr. Wynn has already contributed greatly to improving the lives of Americans, and President Trump knows he will excel in this new role, advancing conservative solutions across the country.”
The RNC post was last held by New York financier Lew Eisenberg, a longtime Republican money-raiser and a former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The duties include building a national network of fundraisers and courting top donors, who increasingly have more options amid the rise of outside groups that can raise and spend unlimited sums.
In August, Wynn opened a second casino in Macau, a largely autonomous special administrative region of China. On the campaign trail, Trump often complained about China’s trade practices and alleged that the Chinese government was manipulating its currency.
That’s mostly saber-rattling, said Wynn, who said he’s not concerned about the president’s contentious posture toward China. Leaders in both countries know that a healthy relationship between them is critical, he said.
“Both governments believe it and feel it, privately, in spite of the short-term stuff you see publicly,” he said. “I am very, very positive about China long-term, and I’m very comfortable that they will work it out.”
Wynn said he’s also unconcerned about the potential for protest or lost business at his casinos because of his newly elevated profile in Trump’s Republican Party.
“I don’t have a care in the world about it,” he said. “The clientele of the Wynn Hotel are there for one reason only, and it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with my politics.” That reason, he said, is a desire to enjoy the “highest rating of product quality and service” that his properties offer.
Too much was made during the campaign about top Republican donors having doubts about Trump, Wynn said. He then mentioned two friends, New York real estate magnate Steve Roth and Blackstone Group LP Chief Executive Officer Steve Schwarzman.
“We all know Donald,” he said. “We know he’s sort of an exciting and sometimes unpredictable guy, but nobody doubted that he was intelligent enough to do this job.”
In 2015, Wynn gave $2,700 to Senator Marco Rubio, one of Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, and an additional $5,000 to the Floridian’s political action committee, data from the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics shows.
Virtually all of Wynn’s campaign contributions have been to Republican candidates and groups, although he did give $20,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2000 and $1,000 in 2004 to a Democratic political action committee.
Wynn also has ties to the Republican Party’s establishment wing and is close to Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush’s key political adviser. He contributed at least $10.1 million between June 2010 and May 2011 to Rove’s Crossroads GPS super political action committee, according to Politico.
Asked about the RNC’s fundraising goals for the 2018 midterm election, Wynn offered just one number: “Eight,” he said, referencing the gain in Senate seats that would be needed to give Republicans a filibuster-proof majority.
FWhatever financial goals are set — the RNC raised almost $200 million in the 2014 midterm election cycle — Wynn said he suspects they’ll be comparatively easy to achieve.
“When the Republican Party has the president, it makes it much easier on the finance chairman,” he said. “A lot of Republicans feel that there’s a real chance of improvement and fixing so many things that need to be fixed.”
Wynn said he’s quite certain Trump will help raise money for the party and congressional candidates. “I can’t imagine that President Trump won’t, but I haven’t discussed it with him,” he said.
For last month’s inauguration, Wynn turned party planner and helped secure some of the entertainment. “We haven’t added everything up, but it’s $800,000, $900,000 or a $1 million,” he said of his personal contribution to the event.