Crypto was on fire as a topic in the early U.S. presidential campaigning, but the first Republican debate last week showed it may not be an issue that has legs with candidates trying to grasp mainstream attention.
As the top GOP candidates spun out their well-rehearsed positions – minus former President Donald Trump, who decided not to show up to the first debate’s Milwaukee stage – they avoided mentions of cryptocurrencies or digital-assets regulation, despite its rising status as a priority in Congress and among financial regulators in the U.S. and abroad.
But their silence on stage doesn’t mean they don’t have positions on crypto, as some of them have made abundantly clear. The field of Republican and Democratic hopefuls are all over the map on how the U.S. should handle crypto, from suspicion to enthusiastic embrace.
While we wait to see whether digital assets come up at the Republican primary debate next month on Fox Business, here’s how the major candidates from both parties shake out on the topic:
- Donald Trump (polling at an average of 52% in a survey of Republican primary polls by fivethirtyeight.com): Still the dominant Republican candidate, despite a dizzying array of civil and criminal charges, former president Trump is an enigma when it comes to crypto issues. He hasn’t addressed crypto lately, but in his direct comments in the past, he established himself as a digital assets skeptic. Still, that didn’t stop him from launching his own collection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that reportedly garnered him almost $5 million in licensing fees, and he’s said to personally hold $2.8 million in a cryptocurrency wallet as of early August, according to documents reviewed by ethics watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Looking at his governing record, Trump spent four years in the White House without advancing significant crypto policy, though one of his appointees as a banking regulator – Brian Brooks at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency – did seek to open the banking system to crypto, and his markets regulators allowed bitcoin (BTC) and ether (ETH) futures trading.
- Ron DeSantis (15%): The Florida governor, still clinging to the role as Trump’s chief (if distant) rival, is an avowed crypto booster. He made political theater out of an effort in his state to block any future central bank digital currency (CBDC), instead championing a path for Americans to invest in bitcoin and other crypto assets. DeSantis has sustained criticism against the current administration for what he characterized as a war on cryptocurrency, which he argued includes the White House and Treasury Department’s open-mindedness to a future digital dollar.
- Vivek Ramaswamy (10%): The biotech entrepreneur put in a lively debate performance last week, potentially elevating one of the strongest crypto voices in the Republican field. Ramaswamy has presented himself as the pro-Bitcoin candidate who actually understands the “decentralized alternative” to the U.S. dollar, as opposed to what he’s characterized as rival DeSantis’ political posturing on digital assets. While Ramaswamy was noted for seizing a lot of the spotlight in the first debate, the same could have been said of Sen. Cory Booker four years ago in the first Democratic debate, which ultimately didn’t translate into staying power.
- Mike Pence (4%): Trump’s former vice president hasn't been known to address crypto issues personally. But when in office, his pick to be his chief economist, Mark Calabria, was a libertarian who had regularly touted bitcoin studies and news for years on social media. And while Pence may not be dialed in to digital assets, his nephew, John Pence, has done some crypto lobbying, including for global exchange Binance as it’s been tangling with U.S. regulators.
- Nikki Haley (4%): The former South Carolina governor also hasn’t had anything to say publicly about crypto. In her role as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, it probably didn’t come up a lot, but for an official who has been in the public eye as long as Haley to not have a record of comments on digital assets – much like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – signals an intent to stay out of it.
- Tim Scott (4%): The U.S. senator from South Carolina is perfectly positioned to shepherd regulation for the crypto sector as the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee and a member of the Financial Innovation Caucus. But he hasn’t, suggesting it’s not a priority or a political tack he’s willing to lean into, despite his announcement that a digital assets oversight framework would be among his top goals for this session of Congress. However, he did dip a toe into crypto-adjacent legislation last year when he co-sponsored a failed bill to expand the category of investors who could buy unregistered securities, including digital assets. More recently, he criticized Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler for his agency’s failure to head off the collapse of FTX, saying, “the regulators, the SEC specifically, have noted that it is the responsibility of crypto firms to comply with existing regulations, but it is also the responsibility of regulators to enforce existing regulations and to conduct appropriate, effective supervision.”
- Chris Christie (3%): The ex-governor of New Jersey has so far kept his distance from the subject of cryptocurrencies.
- Asa Hutchinson (less than 1%): In a 2019 state-of-the-state speech, the former Arkansas governor said he was setting up an innovation council that would – among other things – boost “blockchain technology” in his state, which had also dabbled in using the ledger innovations in the area of food safety. Still, Hutchinson hasn’t yet outlined his views on the asset class.
- Doug Burgum (less than 1%): Last year, the North Dakota governor happily announced his state was hosting the construction of one of the world’s biggest data centers and that it would be mining cryptocurrency. His boasting of the move to “further cement our state’s growing reputation as a hub for data centers and cryptocurrency mining” sets him up as an industry supporter. He has also been reported as saying the disastrous FTX implosion was about fraud and not “an indictment that there’s going to be a place for digital currencies in the future of the world.”
- Francis Suarez (less than 1%): The Miami mayor is arguably the biggest digital assets fan in the race, having put his crypto where his mouth was when enthusiastically volunteering to take his government salary in bitcoin. He told CoinDesk he’d similarly be happy to accept campaign donations in bitcoin. Among his crypto positions, he’s said he would ban a U.S. digital dollar, set clear rules and classifications for digital assets and has experimented with the token MiamiCoin (MIA) in his city.
And the Democrats, where the incumbent president is so far commanding the field:
- Joe Biden (65%): The president, who hasn’t yet seen an electoral threat emerge from his own party, now has a significant record on crypto, judging from his administration’s performance in the past three years. Certain of his regulators have hammered the industry with enforcement actions – mostly at the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission – as they accuse digital assets businesses of failing to toe the line on existing financial regulations, which crypto insiders say are impossible to meet. While his administration hasn’t yet crafted wide-reaching crypto rules, the SEC and Treasury Department have proposed some regulations that would have major – and potentially highly limiting – effects on the sector, from the SEC’s proposals on custody and defining crypto platforms as exchanges to the Treasury’s new proposal on how to tax token gains. He said this year that he’s excited about closing “special interest tax loopholes” that benefit crypto traders, and the White House has pushed for a 30% tax on crypto mining. The administration has also been studying whether to stand up a digital dollar that could shake up stablecoin issuers, though officials insist no decision has been made. Biden’s direct crypto involvement has generally been limited, though he issued an executive order on digital assets in 2022 – before the market detonated that year and crypto giants began toppling – instructing his administration to start getting a handle on oversight that would thread a needle to establish consumer protections while allowing U.S. innovation.
- Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (13%): His famous name may not get him past the criticism for what mainstream Democrats may characterize as extreme positions on vaccines and government conspiracies, but he seems to love talking up crypto. “Bitcoin embodies two of my highest ideals -- transparency and trust,” he said when he appeared as a keynote speaker at the Bitcoin 2023 conference in Miami. “It's important not only for bitcoin but for democracy to be decentralized.” He’s invested in bitcoin personally and vowed to free such investments from capital gains taxes if elected. And he’s vehemently opposed to a U.S. central bank digital currency, which he’s argued could be abused by an oppressive government – the same position occupied by Republican candidate DeSantis.
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