If Donald Trump wants to win the presidency, he’ll need to raise a lot of money. One of the men helping him do that is the hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci. We asked him why.
Scaramucci has long been a player in Republican fundraising. He raised money for Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012, and began this presidential election cycle as Scott Walker’s finance co-chairman. When Walker dropped out, Scaramucci shifted his support to Jeb Bush, and then, finally, to Donald Trump.
Scaramucci’s political loyalties are closely followed because of the doors he is able to open for candidates. In addition to running his own investment firm, Skybridge, he is one of the most well-connected and public figures in the hedge fund industry, hosting a Fox Business Network show and an annual conference callled SALT that attracts many of the richest money managers in the world. His decision to back Trump was generally seen as a coup for the Trump campaign, which has failed to attract the full backing of the Republican establishment. Tomorrow, Scaramucci is hosting a lavish Trump fundraiser in New York along with “a who’s who of the financial world.”
We spoke to him last Thursday about policy, politics, and his decision to back Donald Trump.
Gawker: What’s the scope of your work with the Trump campaign?
Anthony Scaramucci: I’m a lifelong Republican. I bundled for Governor [Mitt] Romney [in 2012] and other Senatorial candidates, local politicians, etcetera. So in 2016, I always thought I would be a part of whoever the eventual nominee’s was fundraising operation. My role, I don’t want to overstate it, but I see it as someone who can connect the candidate into what I would call non-traditional donors. These are probably newer entrepreneurs, business people who you probably wouldn’t see on the RNC donor list. Maybe not even on the 2012 donor list.
Gawker: When you say “non-traditional donors,” who are those people? Young people in finance?
Scaramucci: It could be people from the Young Presidents Organization, it would be people from the Long Island Business Council or Chamber of Commerce. I won the Entrepreneur of the Year Award a few years ago. It would be some of my friends from that network. I think that a good bundler or fundraiser... the real value is, “here’s a brand new person, and I brought them to the table.”
Gawker: Is it funny that you worked for Romney in 2012, and now you’re working for someone he strongly dislikes?
Scaramucci: I did use the Game of Thrones analogy—I basically said that it looks like your dad just got slayed by your uncle, and you’re super mad at your uncle for that and probably for other reasons, but he’s controlling the castle now, and so you better figure this out, because the White Walkers, which are basically the zombies in the show, are coming from the North. Winter is coming, and you’ve got to figure it out. A lot of unpredictable things happened in the Republican party, but I think the notion that we’re gonna demonize Donald Trump or we’re gonna mischaracterize him is completely unfair. I would also say that I don’t spend any time demonizing Secretary Clinton. For me this is a battle of ideas, this is a battle of policy...
When you strip the bark off of Donald Trump, I think he’s a very practical person. I think he’s a very smart person. He’s got an analytical mind. I think he’s tapped into something. His son said he’s the “blue collar billionaire.” I think what he’s tapped into—there’s a tremendous amount of anxiety in the country right now.
Gawker: When you say this is a battle of ideas: What specific Trump policies do you like?
Scaramucci: In general, I think what Donald Trump’s message is, is: I’m a very practical, execution-oriented entrepreneur who built a successful business. I’ve demonstrated an ability to go global with my business. I can get along with a lot of different people. There are certain problems in the United States right now born from faulty policy. So what is happening right now is the lower and middle class are being left behind by the globalization and by the global elite. I think that’s basically his message, and Bernie Sanders’ is similar.
His policy proposals: number one, let’s talk about immigration. I think his rhetoric—and I think he’s been instructed to dial back some of the rhetoric—I also think it could be mischaracterized, some of the rhetoric. As an example, he gives a speech and [The Washington Post says] “Trump calls Obama an accomplice to ISIS.” That wasn’t fair.
Gawker: He did, though, say Mexicans are rapists, and criminals...
Scaramucci: I’m not here to defend him on stuff like that. Here’s what I would say about that: I would say that what should be said, like if you cleanse the language—and Milton Friedman said it better than me, so I’ll paraphrase Milton Friedman—that if you’re going to have a welfare state... and I believe that we should have one, I believe the country is rich enough to have a safety net to protect the indigent, what we shouldn’t do is what Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “defining deviancy downward,” where we’re setting up an ecosystem where people can’t aspire to a better life. We should certainly catch them on the way down, but also help them bounce and create lives of great self-determination. And I think self-esteem comes from work. What he should have said was, hey, Milton Friedman said you can’t have a welfare state and an open border. That’s what he should have said. What he should have said is, all I want to do is enforce the laws that are currently on the books...
If he said it in that way, he would not be the nominee for the Republican party. Because as Donald Trump would say to you if he was sitting right here, he would say to you that he had to knock off 16 opponents, and he had to demonstrate a level of toughness and a level of combativeness to clear the field. His path to the presidency, in my opinion, will be determined by the execution of the next chapter of his strategy.
Gawker: So you’re predicting he will change his stances from what they were in the primary?
Scaramucci: I didn’t say he would change his stances, as much as I think the rhetoric and the explanation. If you say to me, we’re going to build a wall and we’re gonna have the Mexicans pay for it, and then I say to you okay, but what we’re really gonna do is we’re gonna enforce the current laws on the books and records. We’re going to do that for two reasons. Number one, it’s better for our society. All we’re asking for is legal immigration. We certainly want immigration and we like immigrants. And he says that he likes Mexicans. You should also know that he has very good relationships with a lot of people in Mexico. He’s got good relationships with people in the Mexican government. There are people sore at him for his rhetoric, there’s no question about that.
Gawker: But saying “we’re going to build a wall on the border and Mexico is going to pay for it” is a specific policy prescription. He hasn’t backed away from that. It’s not a rhetorical point.
Scaramucci: I will take the candidate at his word that if he becomes the American president, he will build a wall, and knowing his personality, he’ll probably get Mexico to pay for it... I think what he would say to you is that there has been a symbiotic relationship with Mexico, and that the United States has probably benefited Mexico enormously... when you’re talking about trade—people get very alarmed by him—I think he’s a dealmaker and a negotiator. So what he will do is he will have some level of unpredictability because wants to negotiate. He’s basically saying to people, “I think that everything’s off the table, and let’s start putting things back on the table so that things are a little fairer.”
Gawker: Do you as a hedge fund manager really believe that potentially the U.S. should get into trade wars, or tariff wars?
Scaramucci: No, and I don’t think Donald Trump thinks we should get into trade wars. I think what Donald Trump is saying to people is that America has way more leverage at the negotiating table than America has used in the past. And whether you like it or not, the government and trade representatives have made the decision not to use that leverage. And it has had an economic impact on the lower and middle class. Someone could say, what about the costs of goods and services? You can go to the local Walmart and buy things at 15 cents on the dollar. So this is a very complex problem... But what do we know about politics? There’s symbolism in politics. There’s communication in politics. And I think what Donald Trump is saying is, give me the job, and when I get to that job I will figure it out.
Gawker: Do you think that voters should interpret everything Donald Trump is saying as not being the actual policies he will put in place?
Scaramucci: I wrote an editorial about this, that was published in the Wall Street Journal. I said that he’s coming at this from the angle of an entrepreneur. So what is being confused as uneven principles or vacillating policy is actually the DNA of adaptability that an entrepreneur has in a situation. I think what he’s basically saying is... that we need more flexibility and we need more out of the box thinking. This is why he’s doing so well, because he’s a non-politician. He’s only gone one year under his belt as a “politician,” but he’s really not a politician. So what is resonating with the people is, wait a minute, this guy’s gonna handle this thing not like these other jokers, that are talking off Teleprompters, that are listening the political consultants, that have to curry favor with all these special interests.
Gawker: And you’re comfortable with taking Donald Trump at his word and not actually knowing what his policies will end up being?
Scaramucci: I’m not saying that. He’s gonna have a pro-growth tax policy. His immigration policy is he’s for legal immigration, let’s enforce the laws on the books. He doesn’t want a trade war. He’s for free trade, he just wants fairer trade...
While some of the top one or two three percent of the country is doing super well, there is a middle part of the country and a lower middle class part of the country that is struggling right now. There are 47 million people on government dependency. You know real wages are down. You know that the unemployment number is not [really] five percent. We both know that.
Gawker: Do you think that, for example, lowering the top income tax rate to 25%, which is Donald Trump’s proposal, is the best way to help the lower and middle class?
Scaramucci: Here’s what I know: I know that growth will help the lower and middle class. You get growth in the United States, the rest of the world will grow... What I know is that if you put the right policies in place that will lead to economic growth, society will be better. Let me give you really bad news, and I’m sure people will demonize me for saying this: the rich are always gonna be with us. They will always be with us. There are rich people in Cuba. There are rich people in Venezuela. You pick the policies, and the rich are gonna figure it out. They’re always gonna be rich. What has worked for America is not caring about how the rich are doing, or the politics of envy. What’s worked for America is growth. Growth is the reason why I had a very nice middle class upbringing with parents who never went to college. So we have to figure out a way to create those opportunities.
On the flipside of that, you’ve got to be very wary of the deficit. You don’t want to blow a hole in the deficit... His plan, it’s a starting point. He’s said that. “Here’s my starting point. I don’t expect to finish where I am.” I think that’s very refreshing.
Scaramucci: But his response back to that was, okay, this is my starting point. We don’t want to add $10 trillion to the deficit, so let’s start here. I want growth. How are we gonna intersect everyone’s interests, where we can get more growth?
Gawker: If we agree economic growth can help the lower and middle classes, and also that we have the most economic inequality since the 1920s, do you think lower and middle class voters should believe that cutting the top income tax rate to 25% is the best policy to help them?
Scaramucci: I think there’s a package of policies. I think that is one of them. This is the thing that’s going to upset the left. You lower the taxes for the top rate. The left gets super upset, they say “oh my god, now the rich are going to get richer.” But what happens is, by lowering the top rate, you’re motivating people to deploy their capital into the world. As an example, my money is not in a swimming pool in my back yard. My money is tied into this business... You know why I got involved in politics? The government is now a majority partner in my life. I am now a minority partner in my own life. So all my work, my 95 hours of work, worrying about these 70 employees, doing all the work that I’m doing on the charity side—the government is taking north of 50% of my treasure, of my life... You say, oh jeez, let’s take a violin out for Anthony. No violin necessary. I’m just saying, you lower the [tax] rate, you will motivate and incentivize more people to put more capital at risk to create more jobs...
Left-leaning policies—I’m 52 years old, I’ve been to Cuba, I’ve been to dysfunctional state oriented places—left-leaning policies fail the lower and middle classes. I can tell by your face you disagree with me.
Gawker: Since the Reagan era, and deregulation and lowering of taxes, inequality has gone up, and real wages have been flat. That’s the result of 35 years of the policies you’re advocating.
Scaramucci: That’s one way to look at it. I can tell you right now, oh, the weather’s gonna get cold and the leaves are gonna change, and you say “they’re directly connected.” You have to ask yourself, is that the reason? Is that the connection? What I would argue is where we have failed in our policies is on the education side. Where we have failed in our policies is on the immigration side. And where we have failed in our policies is not the Reagan era, but the forward Reagan era. This is a bipartisan indictment.
Gawker: When Donald Trump says he wants to ban Muslims from coming to America, is that a policy you support?
Scaramucci: I don’t support that, but let’s talk about what he really said, as opposed to what people are saying that he said. He’s called for a temporary ban. Paul Ryan said that about the Syrian refugees, by the way, after the December shootings in California. So the problem is for the American elite, and for the American elitist politician who’s used to the status quo, the way he is talking has got them all upset. What he is really trying to say is, let’s take a practical approach and look at the problem. What they’re hearing is hatemongering. What the average person in the public is hearing is “Ah, finally we have a non-politician that’s entering this space that’s gonna talk to me like a non-politician.”
Scaramucci: This is what makes a great democracy. He’s either going to win, and we’re gonna have to help him govern—yourself included—because, same thing I’d say about Barack Obama, he’s my president. I want him to do well. Or he’s not gonna win, and the American public will reject him. But you know what? He just knocked over 16 very talented Republicans... The reason why the left is upset, and the reason why Morning Joe, that phony Joe Scarborough—and I told Trump that he’s a phony, he’s obviously a liberal. Joe! Switch the R to a D and let’s get it over with! Stop the hypocrisy. He was praising Trump, praising Trump, “Trump is a disruptive force.” He got the nomination and he’s three hours of hatemongering on Trump in the morning. Okay, no problem. Joe, the truth of the matter is, if you’re in the Republican party and he’s your nominee, be a team player. Let’s help him.
Ed Koch had the best line: if you agree with me nine out of twelve times, you should vote for me. If you agree with me twelve out of twelve times, you should find a psychiatrist. You’re never gonna find the perfect politician.
Gawker: So if you help Donald Trump get elected and he bans Muslims from coming to America, and someone who works for you comes in and says “My family can’t come visit me because of this guy you helped elect,” what do you say to them?
Scaramucci: I’ll make a prediction right now that he will not put a ban on Muslims coming into America. I make a prediction right now, however, that he’s gonna put people on notice that we are going to soundly defeat ISIS. I think he’s gonna put people on notice that radical Islamic fanaticism, which has led to the slaughter of innocents, that there will be a new sheriff in town and a new strategy to eradicate them.
Gawker: Is there any way for regular people to be able to determine which of the things Donald Trump says he actually plans to do? Because it sounds like your support is predicated on the idea that he won’t do all the things he says.
Scaramucci: It’s not predicated on that. My thesis is exactly what I wrote in the Wall Street Journal: that this is an entrepreneur. And that this is a person who is making a series of proposals and statements in a brainstorm of activity around what is going to be best for America. And he is going to be an advocate for the lower and middle class, and he is going to be an advocate for all races. Because what you’re gonna find about this guy is he’s not a racist. What you’re gonna find out about this guy is, when I’m riding around on the elevators in Trump Tower, and I’m meeting people who have worked for him for ten, 20, 30 years, of all different ethnic origins—including Muslims—they love the guy!
Gawker: One of Trump’s big talking points was that he was self-funding his primary campaign and was not accountable to special interests. Now that guys like you are involved, do you think that point is being undermined?
Scaramucci: What he said was that he will self-fund—and he spent $57 million—that he would self-fund through the primary process. When he got to the end of it, he would go to the Republican National Committee and say, wait a minute, we’ve got to raise the money. Because I will put more of my own money up, but we’re now talking about Senators, the House of Representatives. You’ve got to get the top of the ticket right so that it filters down to the rest of the ticket. Paul Ryan and I agree on this. Mitt Romney is out to lunch on this. You’ve got to get the ticket right, so you can keep the House and Senate.
Gawker: So in your judgment, Donald Trump is the best leader for America in 2016?
Scaramucci: You’re giving me two choices. And I’m telling you that Donald Trump is a way better leader than Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump has built a super successful business. He’s an effective organizer. He’s an effective execution-oriented executive. He has the right political personality to get on with people in a way that’ll surprise people. He will cut deals in a way that are more favorable for America than what establishment politicians have done.
You’re giving me two choices, and I’m choosing Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. I would choose Jesus over Donald Trump, probably. But you’re just giving me two choices.