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.
— a very stable genius, July 31, 2018
Donald Trump is angry at Charles Koch, which isn’t surprising because Donald Trump is angry at everyone and also because the Koch brothers didn’t back him in 2016.
Over the weekend, at the summer edition of the Koch network’s bi-annual gathering, Trump was variously panned. “The divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage,” Brian Hooks, the network’s co-chair said, suggesting lawmakers would be ill-advised to persist in “following” the President down a path to nobody knows quite where. The network also declined to support Kevin Cramer in his bid to unseat Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. That’s a big deal, as it turns out.
“We can’t support him at this time and to be clear, we’ve met with his team, explained this, and lobbied him on this to change their ways,” Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips said Monday, the last day of the network’s pow wow in Colorado Springs.
“Why would Cramer or any other Republican feel like they need to listen to this network if they know we’ll support them anyway?”, AFP CEO Emily Seidel asked.
That’s a good question. I mean, the whole point of political advocacy is to secure a specific set of policy outcomes and if candidates aren’t on board with some of those policies, well then supporting them just amounts to blindly throwing money at something in the name of party loyalty, a silly thing to do if what you’re actually concerned about are outcomes that advance whatever “cause” you purport to stand for.
Of course Trump doesn’t see things that way. Loyalty is paramount to him and as James Comey learned early on, the President “needs” loyalty and “expects” it.
Here’s what Marc Short, who has worked for the Koch brothers and also for the Trump administration as White House legislative director, told CNN this week:
I think what is important for the media and American public to know is Charles and David never wanted to be Republicans. They never wanted to be Democrats. They have always been more libertarian independents.
Do note that the summer meeting in Colorado kicked off with a video message that decried protectionism in some of the most pointed, dramatic language possible. Here it is:
That wasn’t the first time Koch has lambasted Trump’s trade policies. In a March 7 Op-Ed for the Washington Post, Koch wrote this about the metals tariffs:
The administration’s decision to impose major steel and aluminum tariffs – on top of higher tariffs on washing machines and solar panels – will have the same harmful effect. Without a doubt, those who can least afford it will be harmed the most. Having just helped consumers keep more of their money by passing tax reform, it makes little sense to take it away via higher costs.
Obviously, that’s not what Trump wants to hear. And neither is the following, from James Davis, a Koch network spokesman who isn’t amused with Trump’s farmer subsidies, which he calls a “bailout of bad policy”:
We put tariffs, supposedly, to hurt and put pressure on China, and then it actually hurts farmers here. Crops waste away in the field, and then you pull a Depression-era program out to bail out farmers, to make them whole. But who’s underwriting our debt?
Right. Just to reiterate: nobody likes Trump’s farmer bailout. Not even farmers. For instance, the nonprofit group Farmers for Free Trade is now running an all-out media blitz aimed at raising awareness about just how bad these policies really are for U.S. agriculture. The target of that campaign (well, besides Trump) is Peter Navarro, Mr. “Death By China.”
To be sure, some of Trump’s policies are fine with the Koch brothers, including of course the tax cuts and the deregulation push. Trump made sure to remind everyone of that during his Tuesday morning Twitter broadside. “They love my Tax & Regulation Cuts,” the President tweeted, before contending that this administration’s policies have made the brothers “richer.”
I’m not sure the optics around that are great. That is, it doesn’t seem to occur to Trump that tweeting about how he’s made billionaires like himself richer just 12 hours after the New York Times reported that the President and the Treasury Department are considering using executive authority to implement what amounts to an across-the-board tax cut for the wealthy without congressional approval, isn’t the best idea. But you know, optics aren’t really Trump’s thing.
“Their network is highly overrated, I have beaten them at every turn”, the President continued, before accusing the Kochs of “want[ing] to protect their companies outside the U.S. from being taxed”.
Trump also suggested that Charles and David are trying to make a “puppet” out of him (Trump), and that he wasn’t going to stand for any kind of Geppetto-Pinocchio type of arrangement, unless by “Pinocchio” you mean that Trump’s nose is growing longer with each passing lie, in which case well, yeah, the label fits.
Finally, as if this somehow mitigates things, Trump called the brothers “two nice guys with bad ideas”, a Ricky Bobby-ish maneuver -“What? I said with all due respect!“
To be clear, this is probably a bad idea on Trump’s part. Consider this from Politico:
Cramer was the first Republican Senate candidate to be publicly jettisoned by the powerful Koch network this cycle. But during a private briefing over the weekend, donors were given a hand-out that indicated the network is also currently not supporting Senate candidates in two other key states – Indiana and Nevada – according to a photo of the document obtained by POLITICO.
The network is currently only active in four Senate races, a network official said Monday: Wisconsin, Missouri, Tennessee and Florida.
Notably, Charles Koch told reporters on Sunday the following about whether he’d be willing to back Democrats in the midterms:
I don’t care what initials are in front of or after somebody’s name. I would like there to be many more politicians who would embrace and have the courage to run on a platform like this.
By attacking the Koch network, Trump is jeopardizing millions of dollars in potential campaign contributions for Republicans in November as well as all manner of grassroots support and administerial aid. This at a time when the administration’s trade policies are putting the President at odds with iconic American companies like, for instance, Harley-Davidson, with whom Trump is engaged in a truly absurd one-sided Twitter war. Democrats have seized on that and turned the Harley story into a campaign video.
In the same vein, Peter Navarro attacked General Motors on national television last month and on Friday, Larry Kudlow suggested corporate management teams are lying to shareholders about the effect of the tariffs.
All of this, with the Mueller probe still hanging over the administration’s head. And now the President has started a fight with the Kochs.
Of course none of this matters to Trump. All that matters is his ego, but I guess what I would suggest – and this is the political scientist in me coming out – is that the President can’t be at war with everyone, all the time.