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Philadelphia Tribune: Trump and Koch brothers in battle of billionaires

Article: Trump and Koch brothers in battle of billionaires
by Arick Wierson | Aug 7, 2018 (https://www.phillytrib.com/commentary/columns/trump-and-koch-brothers-in-battle-of-billionaires/article_9176c6c1-dc12-5a2d-8932-6b1b8bc9e310.html)

One would be hard-pressed to find American billionaires as different in style and politics as the left-leaning financier Tom Steyer, the independently minded data and media titan Michael Bloomberg, and the conservative oil, ranching and textile barons Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch.

Yet, after Tuesday’s barrage of tweets by President Donald Trump — in which he slammed the Kochs as “a total joke” — Trump has seemingly achieved the impossible. In a master class of how one can bridge the great American political divide and work across party lines, the president has managed to unify America’s most politically active billionaires, from left to middle to right, toward one singular goal: clipping the wings of his presidency by making sure more Democrats are elected to Congress in this fall’s midterms.

Bradley Honan, a longtime Democratic strategist who has advised both Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bloomberg, Jon Corzine, Tony Blair and scores of other left-of-center candidates, told me, “Trump — the great divider — has finally done some uniting after all. Billionaires don’t like Trump, his policies or how he conducts himself.”

While it stands to reason that most of America’s billionaires — particularly those with an eye toward the bottom line — are privately toasting the Trump administration’s efforts to cut taxes and slash regulations, those who have voiced their opinions more publicly have been less kind.

For Tom Steyer, his personal disdain for the president has been anything but a secret. His direct-to-camera spots for his Need to Impeach PAC have been beamed into millions of living rooms across the U.S. According to Politico, Steyer plans to spend $110 million in 2018, making the billionaire financier the largest single source of campaign money on the left.

Bloomberg, the Independent former mayor of New York City, has pledged at least $80 million toward flipping the House in 2018. He views House Republicans as having been weak-kneed when it comes to challenging the leader of their party.

“Congress has essentially stopped acting as a co-equal branch of government, by failing to engage in the kind of oversight of the law that the Constitution requires and the public expect,” wrote the former mayor in an op-ed titled “Why I’m Supporting Democrats in 2018.”

And now come the Koch brothers, the libertarian, free-trade stalwarts of the economic wing of the GOP, as the latest billionaires to send a shot across the bow of the pro-Trump populist wing of the Republican Party. During a recent confab for the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity political advocacy group, it was announced that the Kochs would no longer solely support Republican candidates in this fall’s midterms. Charles Koch, in a rare on-the-record moment of truth, added that “I don’t care what initials are in front or after somebody’s name,” referring to the (R) or (D) that often identifies congressmen and their parties.

It’s not surprising that the Kochs have taken issue with Trump; their devotion to free-trade and open markets sits squarely at odds with Trump’s assertion that “trade wars are good and easy to win.”

But what set the president off on a Twitter attack against the Kochs was the notion that they might actually back a handful of Democrats in this fall’s midterm elections. He tweeted, “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. They love my Tax & Regulation Cuts, Judicial picks & more. I made them richer. 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. Two nice guys with bad ideas. Make America Great Again!”

Trump’s attack followed a divisive weekend in which the Koch network said it would not support Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, who is seeking to unseat Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

“I know this is uncomfortable,” said Emily Seidel, the CEO of Americans for Prosperity, but “if you are a Republican who sits on the committee that wrote the worst spending bill in our country’s history and you voted for it, you’re darn right we will hold you accountable.”

Some astute political observers are betting that the Kochs would prefer a more narrowly divided Congress — which would force Republicans to coalesce around traditional Republican economic principles, many of which are at odds with Trump’s populist riff on the GOP.

But for Trump, the Kochs are playing with fire, and the stakes of the 2018 midterms couldn’t be higher.

A Democrat-controlled House could prove to be a major factor in whether House investigations into all things Trump and Russia are reignited and, more importantly, whether articles of impeachment actually make it to the floor of the House pending the recommendations of the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Bradley Tusk, a former campaign manager for Bloomberg, said to me, “Trump knows the balance of the House — and maybe the Senate — hangs in the midterms.”

“When you handicap the outcome, having multiple billionaires heavily funding campaigns to oust your supporters isn’t helpful. It’s a topsy-turvy world and the old norms don’t always apply, but the extra outside money certainly isn’t good for the White House’s interests.”

But could it all backfire?

Bill Hillsman, a political ad man who has helped populist and outsider candidates win elections, such as Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, told me he sees potential peril in the notion that a bunch of Palm Beach, Manhattan and Bay Area billionaires are banding together to take on the president’s supporters in Congress in this fall’s midterms.

“Trump has defied expectations in so many ways, but who thought ticking off billionaires across the political spectrum would be one of them?” said Hillsman. “But there is a lesson here for those billionaires trying to compete with the biggest bully pulpit in America — unless your message resonates across the entire country, you run the risk of making the president even stronger. A billionaire who fights other billionaires has strong popular appeal. And no politician in American is better than Trump at capitalizing on his base’s anti-elite sentiments.”

The Kochs, Bloomberg and Steyer all have different objectives behind their support of Democrats in this fall’s elections, but if Trump is able to deftly package and brand them to the American public as being complicit in some sort of elitist cabal that is out to get him, it could give him some significant mileage with his base, particularly in those vulnerable districts where Republican incumbents are looking to hold on to their seats.

Either way, the battle of the billionaires will be a theme to keep an eye on as the nation heads into election season. — (CNN)

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