A Democrat could very well beat Donald Trump in 2020, billionaire Trump friend Tom Barrack told CNBC on Monday, just days after the president was acquitted by Republican lawmakers in the Senate impeachment trial.
When asked if anyone among the Democratic presidential hopefuls could win this November, the private equity investor who chaired Trump's inaugural campaign committee replied: "I think the answer is of course."
"I'm not a politician and I don't want to go over my skis even thinking about it, but anything could happen," Barrack told CNBC's Hadley Gamble in Abu Dhabi. "It's a very diverse group, I think every week is a new life for both Democrats and Republicans — the president had a very good week last week, the Democrats didn't have such a good week. But it's a long road. So as everybody gets into their swim lanes, it could be a horse race at the end of the day."
Barrack, who has been cited in congressional investigations and has been called on by an activist shareholder to step down from his role as CEO of real estate firm Colony Capital, weighed in on some of the candidates he felt could compete with Trump.
"So I like many of the candidates — Joe Biden is a class act, he's a super man, he's a very gentle touch, he has a lot of experience. Michael Bloomberg, nobody should count him out of the race. Strong, thoughtful, considerate, powerful, experienced — a long shot for sure in Democratic circles, but as the other candidates start to winnow out, you never can tell what happens."
Former Vice President Biden, initially expected by many Americans to blaze ahead as the Democratic nominee, trailed rivals Sen. Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the Iowa caucus last week. Polls in New Hampshire, which will hold its primary Tuesday, show Biden on the verge of another relatively weak finish, according to a RealClearPolitics polling average.
Still, Biden maintains the lead among Democrats in most polls nationally, ahead of Sanders, Warren, Bloomberg and Buttigieg.
"I like Mike Bloomberg, I know him, I think he would be an amazing president, he was an amazing mayor," Barrack said. "He's run a first class business, he's smart, he's thoughtful, he's considerate, he's done it all before, and he doesn't need anything," Barrack added, highlighting the advantage of his wealth in the presidential campaign.
"So in that sense, the idea of someone self-funding a campaign — because at the end of the day it's about money, it's about money in every country and every election, America even more so — I think it would be a great thing and you have some young candidates coming up on the Democratic side who this cycle may not serve them well, but it will eventually serve them well."
Bloomberg joined the race late in the game and won't be appearing on any ballots until Super Tuesday on March 3, but he's rising in the polls after pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into his campaign. In a recent poll of small business owners, the billionaire businessman was the only Democrat to top Trump. The poll, conducted in January, showed 52% of respondents said they favored the former New York mayor, according to Gallup and payments-tech firm Square.
Still, Barrack noted the economic progress under Trump's tenure, which has seen U.S. unemployment at its lowest levels since 1969 and the stock market hit record highs. January saw employers add 225,000 jobs nationwide, the Labor Department reported Friday, and consumer confidence is up — particularly among independent voters, an important constituency that could prove decisive come November.
And rather than being hit by the impeachment proceedings, Trump's approval rating has ticked up from 47% to 49%, according a recent poll by Hill/HarrisX conducted after he was acquitted on impeachment charges. The president also reached a 49% approval rating in a Gallup poll last week, the highest recorded by Gallup since he assumed the presidency.
"I think President Trump has done a great job, he has aligned his power base producing great results for his constituency," Barrack said. "But America's divided, as the world is divided. So it's never over till it's over."
Barrack himself has been hit with criticism from lawmakers, who accuse him of abusing his ties to Trump for personal financial gain and making poor leadership decisions at the helm of Colony Capital. Colony saw a more than 60% stock price drop since a 2017 merger led by Barrack and a further 21% drop since last February, when the company agreed to a strategic review and the addition of new board members.
Activist investor Blackwells Capital, which holds about 1.85% of Colony's shares, penned a letter last year demanding Barrack step down immediately as CEO, describing him as having "enormous personal distractions and tangible conflicts of interest" and being "persistently mired in investigations and scandals ... including as chairman of the inaugural committee for President Trump and as a man who sought a special role within the Trump administration."
Colony defended itself in a statement in November, saying it had made "significant transformational progress in the last 12 months." Barrack has not been charged in any of the investigations referred to in the Blackwells letter.
A report from the House Oversight Committee from July accused Barrack of "lobbying the Trump administration for personal appointments and special arrangements that could have involved transferring nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia." Barrack had pursued a plan to buy major nuclear technology supplier Westinghouse Electric Company — which is bidding to support Saudi Arabia's nuclear energy ambitions — while simultaneously negotiating with Trump in an attempt to become special envoy to the Middle East. The plan ultimately failed.
Barrack, a Lebanese-American who also served as a senior advisor to the Trump campaign, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Middle East real estate.
Barrack has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He is due to leave his role at Colony Capital in 2021, though the exact date is not yet clear.
—CNBC's Brian Schwartz contributed to this report.
Clarification: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the criticism Colony has received from shareholders.