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.
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.
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.)
SWIPE RIGHT: MORE ON TRUMPISM
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.
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.
TAKE A READING BREAK
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.