No, the Kochs aren’t abandoning Trump, they are trying to get his attention. While the GOP establishment vacillates like children in the middle of a divorce and custody battle. This is more akin to the grandparents threatening to revoke the children’s trust funds. The grandparents are still wealthy and family, but the kids might not be able to their trendy new sports cars on their eighteenth birthday.
Personally I believe it was the tariffs that did it. But it’s certain the Koch brothers are fed up with Donald Trump and his MAGA cult. The Kochs tolerated Trumpism through the ’16 election and his first eighteen months, reportedly they sat out funding any of it. Charles Koch famously quoted his feelings on the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, “is like choosing between a heart attack and cancer”.
Trump never had enthusiastic support from the Koch’s network of cash, think tank promotion, and the whole of the GOP establishment beholden to Koch largesse. The Kochs just never openly opposed Trump, until now.
The Kochs Are Libertarians At Heart
Ideologically the Kochs are libertarian, their support goes to libertarian policies. Bill Moyers.com reported:
“… Charles and David Koch founded and provided sustained funding for an array of free-market and libertarian think tanks and academic research entities, including the Cato Institute and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. David Koch became active in Libertarian Party politics and even ran for vice president on the party ticket in 1980.”
Their motivation was to push the GOP to libertarian principles, not to advance the GOP itself. They’re GOP policy drivers, not its cheerleaders. They want government out of business, deregulation, free trade etc. The Kochs see Trump’s administration as ultimately bad for business. It’s too divisive, too capricious. And now with the tariffs and trade wars, too intrusive on free trade. Charles Koch has even offered to support Democrats that embrace his libertarian policies, there are a good number that do (see Democrats and neo-liberalism). That may be little more than a bargaining ploy with the Trump wing of the party, but it is a significant statement, although not plausible.
Trump Responds…Like Trump
Donald Trump called the Kochs, “a total joke”, in response to their threat. Proving Trump is playing a zero sum game for control of the GOP. Trump forgets the Kochs own most GOP congresspersons, house and senate. They own state houses and governor-ships across the country. The Kochs understand that Trump’s polling numbers are terrible, all-time terrible, Trump has short coat tails and the Kochs have long money. The Koch brothers are playing the long game, while Trump is mired in egoic instant gratification. Trump is trying to win a news cycle, the Kochs are focused on election cycles. By early 2019 I’m sure the Kochs will be funding a GOP primary challenger to Trump for the Presidency, most notably House Speaker Paul Ryan.
The Tea-Party was a full Koch brothers funded operation, and Donald Trump hi-jacked it. The original elected tea-partiers were so ideologically pure they refused to become career politicians. The Kochs got them elected, but they didn’t stay in, “big government”, Koch/Tea-Party ideology worked against itself. The Dallas News opined:
“ The tea party and its supporters, however, do not seem to have followed this pattern. A historically unusual number of tea party legislators elected to the House in the wave of 2010 are no longer in office, because many of them genuinely did hate government and had no interest in becoming experienced legislators. “I never intended to become a career politician,” said one of them, Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, before stepping aside last year.”
Turns out Koch/Tea-Party ideology was its own worst opponent to affecting the changes they desired. If you support people that hate government and governing, and they bail at their first opportunity, you won’t accomplish much. Donald Trump hopped on the Koch’s Tea-Party horse and rode them to the Presidency. The Kochs mobilized the Tea-Party in response to Obama’s election. They got elected to congress in ‘10-’12 , made a lot of angry noise, did little, and left. Trump grabbed the movement like a pied piper, re-energized them with nationalist, protectionist, race-based anger, and he’s taunting the Republican party with it.
Although I don’t see the GOP rejecting Koch cash for Trump. But we’re living in strange times.
How Will It Play Out
Trump has pathetic polling numbers, he polled 45% approval in January ’17, and hasn’t topped 45% since. Presently Trump is around 40% approval. His hardcore, “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue”, support is 25–30%. In the coming mid-term election Trump is poison to swing state Republicans. They’ll need Koch support, especially cash, to stand a chance. Trump’s coat tails are short, and fragile. His tariffs, which many Republicans begged him to hold off on until after the mid-terms, are costing farmers and labor manufacturers job security. The deficit is exploding because of the Trump tax cuts. Trump is threatening to shut down the government if he doesn’t get funding for his wall.
President Trump is holding a knife to his own throat.
May Simply Be Political Theater
The Kochs are businessmen at heart. They’ve invested multi-millions into the GOP over the years, they may be watching the Republican party, their pet project, go belly up under Trump’s hostile takeover. Trump has a stranglehold over ‘strongly identified Republicans’, commanding 93% support. However, The Washington Post reports:
“ Among strong Republicans, Trump’s overall approval rating is 93 percent, with 78 percent “strongly” approving of the president. The problem for Trump, however, is that these voters make up less than half of the Republican electorate — and 18 percent of likely voters.”
Trump and the Kochs have more in common than differences. It seems the Kochs long-view has conceded the ’18 mid-terms and are focused on ’20 and beyond. It seems the Koch bros. are trying to appeal to the conservative leaning independent voter, those not strongly identified as Republican. If the GOP were smart, that would be their target going forward. The Washington Post further reports:
“Trump’s strongest supporters are predominantly white, Southern and older than 60. Many are also well-educated (57 percent attended at least some college) and financially well-off (43 percent reported a household income of at least $75,000).”
That is a rapidly dwindling demographic, evidenced by their energetic urgency to see Trump’s more deplorable policies implemented. This is their last chance. It’s ironic, the Kochs, elderly men, are left to try to appeal to younger, less staunchly conservative Republicans.
We’re living through strange times.
Trump owns the Republican party presently. He and the Kochs most likely will find a functional accord. But given Trump’s obsessive desire to win the battle while ignoring the war, I sense the Kochs will ultimately prevail.
We shall see how this plays out.