That’s why Koch lashed out, at his network’s annual retreat on the last weekend in July, against the “rise in [trade] protectionism,” which is “perverting the key institutions of our society” and heightening the risk of a recession. Koch denounced the Trump GOP’s deepening of the budget deficit, as evidenced by the recent $1.3 trillion spending deal, and Trump’s plan to throw $12 billion in emergency federal aid to the farmers hurt by his trade wars. Koch also dislikes Trump’s immigrant bashing and build-a-wall rhetoric.
Meanwhile, the Koch network co-chair Brian Hooks singled out Trump (“The divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage”), and he has been seconded by Republicans who share Charles Koch’s displeasure with the party’s pro-Trump tilt. Rick Tyler, a GOP strategist and a former spokesman for Senator Ted Cruz, says Trump’s party rejects free-market economics. Tyler told me: “It’s not an ideologically driven party anymore. It has no ideological coherence. It now has the characteristics of a cult following.”
There were two ways Trump could’ve responded to the Koch team’s attack: Brush it off, or double down. He, of course, chose the latter, calling the Kochs “a total joke,” and on Thursday, the GOP chair, Ronna McDaniel, duly accused them of ill-serving their country. That may not have been the best course of action, given that the Koch donor network, composed of roughly 500 of America’s richest conservatives, has been planning to spend $400 million on politics and policy in 2018, and that, by Mayer’s estimate in her book Dark Money, the Koch network’s staff is three times larger than the Republican National Committee’s.
Is it smart for Trump to wield an axe at the Koch money tree and declare that “I don’t need their money or bad ideas”? Perhaps he’s motivated by personal envy. As Tyler told me, “The Kochs have a lot more money than he does. They give a lot of it away, and he doesn’t.” But it’s a dicey move, because Charles Koch and his senior aides have already signaled their reluctance to help the Senate and House candidates who support Trump’s policy apostasies. And at a time when the GOP is trying to hold the Senate, the Koch network is currently supporting only four of the party’s candidates and sitting out five of the eight races that are considered toss-ups—including red North Dakota, where the Republican challenger Kevin Cramer has a shot at toppling the Democrat Heidi Heitkamp.
Ed Rogers, a veteran GOP consultant since the Ronald Reagan era, says that Trump’s hostility to the Kochs is woefully shortsighted. He wrote the other day: “Charles and David Koch have been a huge net plus for the Republican party and the conservative cause. It is undeniable that the work they do creates more allies for President Trump in Congress and in state and local governments. But rather than nurture that asset, Trump is antagonizing the very people who can help Republicans in 2018 and 2020 … He can’t rely just on his piece of the coalition to win the next presidential election, let alone the upcoming midterms … Politics is all about addition, not subtraction. If the Koch organization is alienated, that subtracts money and people.”