We now have a sense of just how much the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity is willing to spend to flip control of the Senate: $125 million. It turns out, though, that there is a larger goal here that goes well beyond the midterms: To convince struggling Americans that the answer to their economic problems is as little government as possible.

Politico reports that AFP is circulating a memo advising big donors that the group will spend $125 million on everything from get-out-the-vote efforts to ads to data analysis, to help conservative candidates this fall.

But the more interesting thing here is the memo’s concession of a hurdle AFP faces: That people support the idea of “taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak.” That this is seen as a messaging problem is telling.

The memo notes that all those anti-Obamacare ads featuring middle-aged women worried about health costs are “part of a broader effort to project a kinder, gentler tone in espousing libertarian-infused government-slashing policies that sometimes risk coming across as coldhearted.” Politico adds:

“If the presidential election told us anything, it’s that Americans place a great importance on taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak,” reads the AFP memo.
Echoing Charles Koch’s opposition to the minimum wage, it asserts that free market, low-regulation policies “create the greatest levels of prosperity and opportunity for all Americans, especially for society’s poorest and most vulnerable.” Yet, the memo says, “we consistently see that Americans in general are concerned that free-market policy — and its advocates — benefit the rich and powerful more than the most vulnerable of society. …We must correct this misconception.”

This underscores once again that the Koch-funded attacks on Obamacare are about a broader project: Discrediting the idea of government as an agent of positive economic change for struggling Americans. As the New York Times has detailed, by pure coincidence, the Koch brothers’ vision of what’s good for “society’s poorest and most vulnerable” also would benefit their bottom line to an untold degree.

As it happens, the AFP memo is right. Majorities of Americans do see the economy as rigged for the wealthy and don’t believe everyone has an equal shot at getting ahead. Majorities support a minimum wage hike. Though polling is admittedly mixed on the proper role of “government,” polls have shown majority support for the idea of policies that tax the wealthy to fund programs for the poor, and more Americans think government programs for the poor help rather than hurt. During the 2012 election — which the AFP memo cites as a teachable moment — polling showed strong support for preserving the safety net. Perceptions like these, the memo suggests, are problematic and must be corrected.

In essence, what the AFP memo really shows is that a war is underway over how Americans should view the economy. The Dem argument that AFP is spending all of this money to block or roll back government policies to help working and middle class Americans — and in service of the idea that low taxes and low regulations (that happen to benefit the Koch brothers’ bottom line) is the cure-all solution to struggling Americans’ economic problems — is, on the substance, exactly right.

* DEMS FACE DECISION ON BENGHAZI PROBE: Today House Dems will huddle to decide whether they will participate in the new House GOP select committee on Benghazi, and one Dem is offering a novel solution: Appoint a single Democrat to the committee who can puncture the BS “revelations” as they come along, without lending the proceedings the credibility that full participation would confer.

We should have our answer later this morning.

* OBAMA’S ROLE IN THE MIDTERMS: The Wall Street Journal has a useful overview of White House plans for Obama to use executive actions and the bully pulpit to frame the larger choice in economic philosophies voters face while not necessarily helping individual candidates:

So when speaking to young voters…Mr. Obama will highlight issues like college affordability. Women, the White House hopes, will be encouraged to turn out for Democrats by the president’s push for equal pay and a higher minimum wage. For black voters, that means making the election about Mr. Obama and preserving his legacy. Latinos are more likely to receive messaging about Mr. Obama’s push to overhaul immigration law, as well as an expected change in his deportation policy.

Obama pollster Joel Benenson: “The fundamental question here that the country faces is: Which party has a philosophy and an approach that puts average, hard-working Americans front and center?”

* DEMS GO UP ON AIR AGAINST TILLIS: The Dem-allied Senate Majority PAC is up with its first ad hitting North Carolina GOP Senate nominee Thom Tillis over his tax cuts for the wealthy. The spot is a reminder that Dems hope to make Tillis’ record as House speaker — and his role in steering the state in a sharply conservative direction — central to their case that his economic agenda is ideologically extreme and harmful to working and middle Americans. Once again, this race will feature one of the sharpest ideological contrasts of any race in the country.

* WHITE HOUSE EYING ACTION ON IMMIGRATION: The Hill has a good overview of all the executive actions the administration is mulling or implementing to ease deportations. The Republican objection, courtesy of Senator Chuck Grassley:

“He is hurting the opportunity to get an immigration bill through the House of Representatives this year,” he said. “They want to know that if they pass a new law, the new law is going to be enforced – and he’s showing that he doesn’t care about the enforcement of law.”

As always, the position of Congressional Republicans is: We won’t act to solve this problem, and Obama must not act to solve it, either, because if he does, we won’t act.

They will include new energy conservation standards for devices like conveyor belts and escalators and one for walk-in coolers and a program to replace outdoor public lighting with energy-efficient alternatives in five cities. He will also set a goal to save $2 billion in three years by increasing energy efficiency in federal buildings, and he will promote an Energy Department program to provide solar industry training at community colleges. The White House estimates that together, the executive actions…will cut carbon pollution by more than 380 million metric tons — the equivalent of taking 80 million cars off the road for one year. 

This will not put a real dent in the problem. But such moves may begin building public support for the big executive actions to come — curbing carbon emissions from existing power plants — which will amount to perhaps the biggest and most consequential fight of his second term.

* RINO WATCH: Mitt Romney is back, and calling on Republicans to agree to a hike in the minimum wage. Oh well. Now it will never happen.

* AND THE KOCHS CAN’T HALT PROGRESS: Timothy Egan has a nice piece taking stock of the Koch brothers’ efforts to roll back state-based solar energy initiatives, and concludes that even if Republicans take back the Senate this year, they will lose the war:

Next year, the Kochs will have a Congress loaded with crackpots ready to serve their agenda. There will be show hearings, bills will be introduced, meaningless votes will be taken. In the end, health care and clean energy will march on. The Kochs…will be like Harold Lloyd in one of the great scenes from the silent movie era — hanging from the hands of a giant clock. It may cost them half a billion dollars to learn that they can’t stop time.

What else?