Koch Bros. face donor backlash after failing to support Trump

Charles Koch hosted another of his famous retreats for donors this weekend, this time with an eye toward preserving some endangered Republican Senate seats. There was a serious fly in the ointment, however, because some of his biggest cash cows were more interested in talking about why he wasn’t planning to support the GOP’s nominee for president. (Washington Post)

Koch’s refusal to harness his singular operation in support of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has put him at odds with some of his wealthiest peers — and forced the network to defend its relevance at a time of its greatest reach.

That tension rippled behind the scenes this weekend as about 400 donors met here at a luxury resort encircling a man-made lake, where white swans paddled in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Between panels extolling free speech and conservative state policy victories, Koch and his top deputies heard out donors worried about the network’s decision to sit on the sidelines.

“I told him that it was very important that Hillary Clinton not get elected,” said Minnesota media mogul Stanley Hubbard, who said his biggest concern is how she would reshape the Supreme Court.

According to some in attendance, a common question that Koch is facing runs along the lines of, why are we spending money on Senate candidates and not trying to beat Hillary? The Supreme Court was a hot topic as it relates to that specific complaint and I’m sure that the host was hearing plenty of it. The other argument being raised was that Trump is being held to a different standard than Mitt Romney. It’s easy to forget that there were many, many conservative thought leaders four years ago who were very unhappy with Mitt’s nomination, but the group consensus was that Obama was too much of a disaster to quibble over a few policy positions so Romney should be given a pass. And he was.

Koch was already backpedaling a bit during the meeting, assuring prospective donors that he would be criticizing Clinton in some of these Senate races and tying other Democratic candidates to her. When it was suggested that he might actually support the former Secretary of State he referred to it as a blood libel. But even for all of that positioning he still wasn’t going to endorse or actively support Trump. That’s leaving some of the largest donors with a bad taste in their mouth.

It seems as if Charles Koch is running into the same problems encountered by too many in the conservative commentariat who attempt to claim to be simultaneously #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary. That’s mathematically in the realm of unreal numbers. Forget for the moment that every conservative voter who would normally vote the GOP line but sits out the election or goes third party represents one more vote that Trump has to find elsewhere and increases Clinton’s default lead. There is also the down ballot effect. You can hope for ticket splitting to at least hang on to congressional majorities, but you’re never going to hit anywhere near 100% on that score. Koch’s position may not be directly supporting Hillary Clinton, but the indirect (and very real) electoral benefits to her are undeniable unless you’ve taken up a new residence outside of reality.

You have to wonder if Koch didn’t get the message this weekend and will be reconsidering his strategy. He may not be able to bring himself to overtly endorse Trump or even send cash directly to his campaign, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of his advertising gets a lot more strident about Clinton’s shortcomings and the need to defeat her even if they aren’t mentioning who the only viable alternative is.