Sharon mccutcheon

Society

A New Koch: What to Make of the Powerful Billionaire's Dismissal of Trumpism

Feuding and sycophancy are the two human relationships that define Donald Trump’s world. That’s why it was all but inevitable that he and GOP mega-donor Charles Koch would end up as adversaries one day. The dominant Koch brother wasn’t put on earth to be anybody’s stooge, no matter how much easier life inside the Republican party would be this week if he were.

As everyone knows, the GOP’s 2018 midterm candidates can’t risk offending Trump’s wrathful base if they want to survive to cave another day. However, the party has simultaneously been hoping that the Koch donor network’s announced $400 million campaign war chest will help stop this election cycle’s anticipated blue wave from getting an upgrade to a Democratic tsunami. No wonder Steve Bannon practically howled at Charles Koch to “shut up and get with the program” soon after the news went public that Wichita’s answer to the Great And Powerful Oz has just about had it up to here with the cowardly lion in the White House.
Nobody expected Koch to put Americans for Prosperity’s money where his mouth was by threatening to withhold it from GOP candidates who back Trump’s trade wars.
It would be hard to think of an argument less likely to sway an 82-year-old billionaire who’s never seen any reason to pay attention to anybody else’s program. His own is the only one that matters, and Koch, along with his brother David (now ailing and largely retired) was extraordinarily successful at turning it into Republican gospel until Trump came along. In some ways, Americans For Prosperity, the Kochs’ advocacy outlet, is only the tip of the iceberg. They also fund the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC for short, which creates “model” corporate-friendly bills that tame GOP state legislatures dutifully turn into law—around 200 of them per year, at least as of 2012. They’ve sunk millions into bankrolling conservative think tanks and endowing academic institutes designed to promote their free-market, small-government philosophy.

Charles Koch didn’t back Trump in 2016, preferring to disburse Americans for Prosperity’s bushels of money on down-ticket congressional races instead. But he was able to tolerate Trump so long as POTUS was delivering the goods that he, like the bulk of the GOP’s donor class, most wanted: that trillion-dollar tax cut benefiting the super-rich, the gutting of the EPA and deregulation across the board, and Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. From the corporate point of view, everybody’s focus on Roe v. Wade has been a very useful distraction from the fact that Gorsuch—along with Brett Kavanaugh, assuming Kavanaugh joins him on the bench—will be a reliably pro-business, anti-regulation, anti-workers’ rights SCOTUS vote for decades. (As it happens, Koch Industries’ environmental and worker-safety record is among the most execrable in the country.)

However, there’s no such thing as delicatessen Koch-ism, at least from Charles Koch’s perspective. He wants the whole hog, and he is, first and foremost, a free-market, free-trade fanatic, espousing a version of unfettered profit-making so extreme that a former associate once labeled it “anarcho-capitalism.” Trump’s protectionist tariffs were bound to be anathema to him, and Trump’s bellicose, anti-immigrant xenophobia and overall divisive style don’t charm him either. That stuff just gets in the way of unfettered profit-making, after all.

The first rumble of discontent came when Koch took to the Washington Post’s op-ed pages—not exactly his usual platform—in the spring of 2017 to warn that protectionism not only damages trade but promotes intolerance. He even said that Trump’s economic policies shouldn’t benefit big businesses like his own at everyone else’s expense, since the short-term gains to his own class weren’t worth the adverse consequences down the road.

But 2017 wasn’t an election year, and most people just blinked in wonder before moving on. Nobody expected Koch to put Americans for Prosperity’s money where his mouth was by threatening to withhold it from GOP candidates who back Trump’s trade wars and other economic fiascos in the making, meanwhile signaling a willingness to consider leaguing instead with selected Democrats who don’t.
Having made it all about himself, Trump was oblivious to the strong likelihood that the GOP does need Koch money to preserve its razor-thin Senate majority.
That’s just what happened at the organization’s annual conclave last weekend, starting with the announcement that the Koch donor network will be sitting out Republican challenger Kevin Cramer’s North Dakota Senate race against vulnerable Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp. (Cramer’s sin was supporting the increased government spending that has ballooned on Trump’s watch, another deal-breaker in KochWorld.) Other states whose GOP Senate candidates might have to do without Americans for Prosperity’s bankroll include Indiana, Missouri, Montana and West Virginia—good news for, respectively, vulnerable Democratic incumbents Joe Donnelly, Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester, and Joe Manchin, since Trump won all four states handily in 2016. “We’ve got a message for lawmakers across the country. We are raising the bar,” said Koch associate Emily Seidel, according to the Washington Post

Inevitably, Trump fired back on Twitter: “The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade. I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas.” The “real Republican circles” bit was especially choice, considering that Trump himself wasn’t even a nominal Republican until recently. Having made it all about himself, as usual, he was oblivious to the strong likelihood that the GOP does need Koch money to preserve its razor-thin Senate majority.
Nobody knows how adamant Charles Koch and his donor cabal will be about “holding people responsible,” as he put it; that is, withholding support from Republicans who don’t fall into line on the tariffs issue. But as the GOP’s lawmakers know all too well, there’s no such thing as delicatessen Trumpism either. If you don’t back him on everything, you might as well back him on nothing, as far as his base is concerned. That’s why, at least so far as we’re aware, no Republican legislator up for re-election this year has yet openly broken ranks with Trump on trade, even at the potential cost of losing out on Koch money. But that doesn’t mean they won’t if the odds against them get worse between now and November.

Trump doesn’t have any real experience at going up against someone like Charles Koch, who could buy and sell him 10 times over and can’t be browbeaten, intimidated or even successfully insulted. Unlike any elected GOP official, he may be the only man in “real Republican circles” who’s powerful and independent enough to force the party to put some daylight betweeen itself and Trumpism before everything ends in disaster. It’s also true that both Koch brothers, who were astonished when they got turned into the left’s ultimate cartoon villains during the Obama years, have a serious interest in repairing the family’s PR image before they shuffle off this mortal coil. But either way, at 82, Charles Koch—who’s almost certainly reconciled to the prospect of the GOP losing bigly in 2018, with or without his help—is plainly looking ahead to something Trump has never shown any sign of taking into consideration: the post-Trumpian future.