You just know the Republican race is in bad shape when conservative bagman Charles Koch suggests publicly that Hillary Clinton might be the best choice for the Oval Office.
It’s nice to be reminded, every once in a while, that plutocrats can’t buy whatever they want. The far-flung Koch brothers network has long been poised to spend $889 million to fuel a right-wing power surge in 2016, from the state house to the White House, but plans went awry when all its big-league prospects, from Scott Walker to Rand Paul to Marco Rubio, got drowned in the Donald Trump tsunami. Now it’s likely that the Kochs won’t spend even “a penny.”
That was the word yesterday from Charles. The mogul surfaced for a rare interview, on ABC News, and it turns out that his take on the repulsive Republican race is basically what you’d hear from any sane observer on the street. What a year this is. Hell freezes over.
He appeared to be addressing Trump directly (and, to a lesser extent, Ted Cruz): “You’ve got to be like Ronald Reagan and compete on making the country better, rather than tearing down your opponents….More of these personal attacks and pitting one person against the other – that’s the message you’re sending the country….You’re terrible role models.”
Could the Kochs put their money on Trump, if he’s the autumn nominee?
“I don’t know how we could support him….We don’t want arm-waving. We want to know specifics.”
The Koch network – widely nicknamed the “Kochtopus” – has been stymied by Trump for the last six months. With the exception of a few donors, the network has largely refrained from spending millions on anti-Trump ads, fearful that Trump would retaliate by stoking hostility to the Kochs. Indeed, the Kochs have watched Trump trample many of their pet positions, most notably free trade and no-wall immigration. And yesterday, Charles took a fresh whack at Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States: “That’s reminiscent of Nazi Germany…That’s monstrous.”
Let’s pause for a moment and ponder the spectacle of a conservative mogul, an avowed foe of the Democratic party ethos, going on national TV to compare the likely Republican nominee to a Nazi.
But there was more. He proceeded to praise Bill Clinton as more fiscally conservative than George W. Bush – “as far as the growth of government, the increase in spending, on restrictive regulations, it was two and a half times (higher) under Bush than it was under Clinton” – and that prompted interviewer Jonathan Karl to initiate this exchange:
“So is it possible that another Clinton could be better than another Republican – “
” – next time around?”
“You couldn’t see yourself supporting Hillary Clinton, could you?”
Charles hedged on that. And of course it’s preposterous that the Kochs would ever endorse her. However, he added this: “But on some of the Republican candidates, we would – before we could support them, we’d have to believe their actions will be quite different than the rhetoric we’ve heard so far.”
That’s a strong signal that the Kochs are prepared to sit this one out. They’ve dropped this hint before – back in the winter, a Koch spokesman reportedly said, “I could see the network not participating in the presidential election at all,” and a Koch ally, Minnesota billionaire Stan Hubbard recently said of Trump and Cruz, “Why don’t they act like adults? Ronald Reagan must be turning over in his grave” – but it’s clear that the brothers are doubling down on a boycott.
Instead they seem poised to pump their network money into the blue-state Senate races where incumbent Republicans are seriously at risk. Plan B is to cede the nomination to Trump and the White House to Hillary – but to ensure that the Senate stays Republican. The problem, of course, is that every Senate Republican candidate will be forced to comment on every asinine thing that Trump has said or done. No amount of money can cure that toxic political climate.
So where can the Kochs find safe harbor this year? Certainly not with Hillary. Yesterday afternoon, she fired off a tweet telling the brothers to buzz off: “Not interested in endorsements from people who deny climate science and make it harder for people to vote” – referring to the junk science that Koch groups pump into the empty heads of deniers and trolls; and to the Kochs’ lavish support for voter-suppression laws.
All that money, and nowhere to spend it wisely. Back in January, Charles lamented to a reporter, “You’d think we could have more influence.” Aww. Where’s my violin?
Speaking of Trump (because how can we not): He seems on track to rack up lots of delegates tomorrow in the Pennsylvania primary.
He’s ahead statewide by 18 percentage points (at least according to the NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll), and that gives him the 17 delegates who are tied to the statewide tally. And even though the remaining 54 delegates will be officially “unbound,” reports indicate that most delegate candidates are poised to either support Trump or support whoever wins their congressional district – which is likely to be Trump anyway, if he wins by high double digits statewide. Add in his likely big wins tomorrow elsewhere in the Northeast (Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland), and the Kochs will have fresh reasons to stew.