Billionaire T. Boone Pickens Backs Donald Trump, Muslim Ban

WSJ, Rebecca Ballhaus

LAS VEGAS—Oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, who previously backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, on Wednesday endorsed presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and said he supports the candidate’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

Mr. Pickens, who donated $100,000 to the super PAC backing Mr. Bush last February, said he would welcome a president with no elected experience.

“Yes, I’m for Donald Trump. … I’m tired of having politicians as president of the U.S.,” he said, speaking at the economics-focused SALT Conference at the Bellagio Hotel here. “Let’s try something different.”

The oil billionaire said he would support Mr. Trump’s controversial proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country in the interest of national security.

“We’ve got to know. … We’ve got to have a better policy on bringing people into the U.S.,” he said. “It’s kind of like, ‘Just wander in.’”

Mr. Trump late last year proposed a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country, saying the hatred among them was “beyond comprehension.” His comments provoked outrage across the political spectrum, but the real-estate developer has not backed down from his stance in recent months.

Mr. Pickens’s decision to support Mr. Trump is a shift for the oil billionaire. Late last year, as Mr. Bush dwindled in the polls, Mr. Pickens authored a blog post proposing the creation of a “bipartisan screening committee that vets presidential candidates like we do anyone else applying for a job and recommends the best candidates possible.”

t.boonepickens_small Billionaire T. Boone Pickens Backs Donald Trump, Muslim Ban

“We have people running for president now who don’t even have experience running a lemonade stand,” he wrote. “We’ve turned our presidential selection process into a reality TV show. Hell, it’s worse than reality TV. Why? Because this reality TV show is about the selecting the leader of the Free World.”

Asked by the panel’s moderator whether he was bothered by Mr. Trump’s vague policy positions, Mr. Pickens avoided the question. “How many diametrically opposed statements have been made by Hillary Clinton?” he asked.

Mr. Pickens, who also donated to a super PAC backing former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina and to retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson’s campaign, praised Mr. Trump for having the “guts” to run for president, but said the New York businessman’s brash personality didn’t catapult him to win the nomination so much as the general sense of anger among Americans.

“You or I, either one could’ve been in the same spot as Donald Trump,” he said to Sam Zell, a billionaire investor who sat on the panel with him. “He showed up when the people were fed up.”

Mr. Pickens acknowledged that Mr. Trump is not without his flaws. “I’ll tell you, Donald always overestimates how successful he is,” he said.

“No shit,” Mr. Zell responded.

And should a Trump presidency not work out, Mr. Pickens said he isn’t overly concerned.

“I’m ready to take a chance on it,” the 87-year-old said. “And just in case it’s a mistake, [I’ll] be gone.”