Another billionaire checks out
After former Democratic President Barack Obama made a quiet stop in Columbus on Thursday night, the wealthiest Republican supporter in the state told a small audience at a Downtown event that he is fed up and has quit the Republican Party.
“I just decided I’m no longer a Republican,” said L Brands CEO Leslie H. Wexner, speaking during a panel discussion about civility at Miranova’s Ivory Room billed as a “Columbus Partnership and YPO Leadership Summit.”
“I’m an independent,” he said. “I won’t support this nonsense in the Republican Party. I’ve been a Republican since college, joined the Young Republican Club at Ohio State.
“I haven’t run an ad in the newspaper that said, ‘I quit,’” he told the gathering on Thursday. Instead, he’s been writing notes to his friends in elective office who are Republicans, telling them, “I want you to know that now I’m an independent.”
The event was jointly sponsored by the Columbus Partnership, a group of central Ohio’s most influential business leaders that Wexner chairs, and YPO (formerly Young Presidents’ Organization), a group of under-45 business leaders.
Obama stopped in Columbus before a rally in Cleveland Thursday night to support Democrat Richard Cordray’s run for governor.
The former president spoke on stage in Columbus with Alex Fischer, president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, during a portion of the event that was closed to reporters.
The panel on which Wexner later spoke was moderated by political commentator David Gergen, a former adviser to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. Panelists also included Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and Nancy Kramer, chief evangelist at IBM iX. It was attended by approximately 140 people.
When asked for her reaction to Wexner’s statement after the event, Kramer, a member of the Partnership, referred back to Obama’s comments. The former president urged listeners, she said, to focus on what they will do rather than who they are. Wexner, she said, was “making a statement about his belief systems.”
Wexner spoke warmly about Obama and about the theme of bipartisan civility, something he has been promoting in recent months. “It’s a great moment for the community,” he said of Obama’s rather secretive visit to Columbus before his Cleveland rally for Cordray. “I know he came here because of the Partnership and the things we have done, and the knowledge that civility is a priority for our community. He wanted to touch it and feel it for himself.
“I was struck by the genuineness of the man; his candor, humility and empathy for others,” Wexner said of Obama.
Those comments presented a stark contrast to Wexner’s comments about Republican President Donald Trump. A little over a year ago, the billionaire CEO said in a speech to L Brands employees that he felt “dirty” and “ashamed” following Trump’s response to violence that erupted at the Unite the Right rally that left one dead in Charlottesville in 2017.
Trump had said there were “very fine people” among the white nationalist protesters at that rally. On Thursday, Wexner recalled that incident, which he said caused him to lose sleep. “I have to do something because the leader of our country is behaving poorly,” Wexner recalled thinking.
Yes, yes, I know the Republicans have been terrible forever and they have. I mean, think about Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay! But for some Republicans Trump is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I guess that’s better than nothing. But it’s really too bad about the camel.