After Sitting Out 2016, Some Major GOP Donors Are Getting Ready To Stand Against Trump

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The Koch brothers network is not going to let Donald Trump win the 2024 Republican primary the way they let him win the 2016 nomination. Created by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, the group of conservative activists and donors, long made into a political bogeyman by the left, has decided that it’s time to “turn the page” on the 44th president. 

The New York Times reports, “The network, comprising an array of political and advocacy groups that have been backed by hundreds of ultrawealthy conservatives, has been among the most influential forces in American politics over the past 15 years, spending nearly $500 million supporting Republican candidates and conservative policies in the 2020 election cycle alone. But it has never before supported candidates in presidential primaries.

The potential move against Mr. Trump could motivate donors to line up behind another prospective candidate. Thus far, only the former president has entered the race.

The memo went out to the affiliated activists and donors after a weekend conference in Palm Springs, California, where the network’s leaders laid out their goals for the next presidential election cycle. At various sessions, they made clear they planned to get involved in primaries for various offices, and early.”

The memo, penned by Emily Seidel, a senior advisor at Americans For Prosperity, says, “At a time in our country when millions of Americans are struggling, we must always remember why AFP is engaged in elections: to help elect candidates who will pass policies that empower people to improve their lives.

AFP aspires to be the home for voters and policy makers, regardless of political party, who want to change the trajectory of our country toward one guided by core American principles, principles like freedom and empowerment and a strong constitutional system so that all people have the opportunity to live their American Dream. Given all that’s at stake right now, we are redoubling our focus on this vision and taking our strategy to do this to the next level.

What we’ve consistently heard from voters we talk to in these efforts is that they expect better from Washington. They want new leadership. Better policies. And they want AFP to step up to help them achieve it.

I have no doubt that this will be a challenging task. I know that our critics will seek to mischaracterize our efforts because they know they cannot compete with a capability that has been built and nurtured for 20 years – a capability that is of the people and by the people in local communities all across our country. But we will not let that distract us from our goal.

We are in this because we believe in a country where all people have the opportunity to live lives of meaning and contribution.

With thousands of committed supporters across the country, AFP and AFPA are prepared to invest the necessary resources to empower millions of citizen activists and voters to turn the page.

“The move marks the most notable example to date of an overt and coordinated effort from within conservative circles to stop Trump from winning the GOP nomination for a third straight presidential election. Some Republicans have grown increasingly frustrated with Trump after disappointing midterm elections in which he drew blame for elevating flawed candidates and polarizing ideas. But absent a consolidated effort to stop Trump, many critics fear he will be able to exploit GOP divisions and chart a course to the nomination as he did in 2016,” writes The Washington Post.

The newspaper continues, “The salvo from one of the biggest spenders in American politics marks a reversal after sitting out the past two presidential primaries. The Koch network has stayed on the sidelines since 2015, when it identified five approved presidential candidates, all of whom fell to Trump.

To avoid a repeat of that outcome, the network plans to endorse a single candidate by the end of this summer, according to a person familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were confidential. ‘AFP Action is prepared to support a candidate in the Republican presidential primary who can lead our country forward, and who can win,’ Seidel wrote in the memo.

The decision by the powerful network to challenge Trump marks an escalation of a long-simmering feud over the GOP’s core policy commitments. Trump’s brand of economic nationalism has clashed with the free-trade inclinations of the Koch network. ‘The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade,’ Trump wrote on Twitter in 2018, referring to Charles and his brother David, who died in 2019. Trump and the Koch network have been more aligned on opposing foreign interventions and reducing nonviolent criminal sentences.”

Time explained why this is such a big deal for the upcoming primary. “Americans for Prosperity is perhaps the most forward-facing arm of the Koch political orbit, organized more than two decades ago by billionaires Charles and David Koch. They went all-in on Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012, a move many of the network’s members to this day regret. The groups were no fans of Trump in 2016 but many of their donors were, so they officially stayed out of the primary after flirting with a flex. By the time Trump 2020 arrived, the groups had seen mixed records on their goals—tax cuts and criminal justice reform were good to their minds; the administration’s efforts on immigration and isolationism were not—and instead stayed largely out of the race.

But, in the intervening time, many of the Trump apologists in the Koch orbit have soured on the ex-President. The deadly Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, was a last straw for many, and the threat posed by a leader without respect for the rule of law—a key tenant for the free-market donors central to the Koch orbit—was too much to ignore. So, heading into the early days of the 2024 jockeying, it’s clear that the massive vault of cash controlled by these groups is up for grabs. It alone won’t be enough to win anyone the nomination—and maybe not enough to deny it to Trump—but it’s a force that doesn’t have a peer.

In the weeks since, insiders have been pushing the groups to get involved in the presidential race, and the leadership is clearly now ready to engage. The quants did the math, and they are convinced a Koch network involvement in the primary can make a difference.”

Although the memo didn’t designate a spending target, The New York Times noted, “AFP’s affiliated super PAC spent more than $69 million in the 2022 cycle, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures. The Koch network now joins the Club for Growth, another of the largest outside spenders, and several of the party’s biggest individual donors such as finance billionaires Kenneth C. Griffin and Stephen A. Schwarzman in signaling their opposition to Trump’s current campaign.”

Somewhere, Ron DeSantis is probably smiling. 

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