President Donald Trump lashed out Tuesday morning at the conservative megadonor Koch brothers, who Trump said “have become a total joke in real Republican circles,” in the wake of their sharp criticism of the president and his trade policies.
“The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade. I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas,” the president wrote on Twitter. “They love my Tax & Regulation Cuts, Judicial picks & more. I made them richer.”
The Kochs’ network of donors met last weekend in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the Kochs’ criticism of the president, especially on trade, came to the forefront. Charles Koch, who leads the network, said in a video presentation at the meeting that a “rise in protectionism” represents “a natural tendency, but it’s a destructive one.”
Brian Hooks, a top deputy of Charles Koch, was blunt in his criticism of the president’s leadership.
“The divisiveness of this White House is causing long-term damage,” Hooks said during a briefing with reporters. “When in order to win on an issue someone else has to lose, it makes it very difficult to unite people and solve the problems in this country. You see that on trade: In order to get to a good place on trade, convince the American people that trade is bad.”
Although the Kochs have long been among the most influential conservative donors in the country, they have largely withheld support from Trump, mostly sitting out the 2016 election cycle, during which he was elected. The relationship between the president and the Kochs had seemed to warm somewhat with the passage of Trump’s package of tax cuts and reforms, which the donor network supported.
But over the weekend, Charles Koch expressed a willingness to work with Democrats on issues he cares about, including criminal justice reform, should control of the House of Representatives flip after this November’s midterm elections. He said he sometimes regretted supporting GOP lawmakers and would be more careful about who his network supports in the future.
In Colorado Springs, the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity announced it would not support Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) in his bid to unseat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who is considered among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats in November’s election. A handout distributed during a private briefing showed Americans for Prosperity is also currently not supporting GOP candidates in Senate races in Nevada and Indiana, two other key races whose outcomes could be crucial in determining the balance of power in the Senate.
The decision not to back Cramer earned positive reviews from the Club for Growth, another conservative-leaning political group. “Good for AFP for taking a pass on Rep. Kevin Cramer. He has just a 53% lifetime CFG rating, which is horribly low for a state that went 64% for Trump. Republicans need to LEAD on and DEFEND freedom. Not kowtow to special interests,” a post to the group’s Twitter account read.
James Davis, a spokesman for the Koch network, said Tuesday that “We support policies that help all people improve their lives. We look forward to working with anyone to do so.”
The Koch network is also likely to face competition from the political left from a donor operation being organized by billionaire Tom Steyer, known for launching a nationwide campaign to spur Trump’s impeachment. Steyer has plans to spend $110 million in 2018, an amount that makes him the biggest donor on the left, while his political network is second in size only to the Kochs’.
The criticism from the Koch network prompted former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon to suggest that the billionaire donors “shut up and get with the program” of supporting the president and his agenda with less than 100 days to go until the midterms.
Trump, though, wrote on Twitter that he does not need the help of the Kochs.
“Their network is highly overrated, I have beaten them at every turn. They want to protect their companies outside the U.S. from being taxed, I’m for America First & the American Worker – a puppet for no one,” the president said online. “Two nice guys with bad ideas. Make America Great Again!”