The president has another opportunity to be magnanimous, show himself to be the bigger man and to take a pass on fueling a fight with fellow Republicans. Okay, that won’t happen. But it doesn’t mean the Trump-Koch dispute that flared in recent days should be ignored.
I’ve never worked with the Koch organization, but they are an important resource for Republicans. You can argue about whether they should have done this or that or funded this or that program, but without question, Charles and David Koch have been a huge net plus for the Republican Party and the conservative cause. It is undeniable that the work they do creates more allies for President Trump in Congress and in state and local governments. But rather than nurture this asset, Trump is antagonizing the very people who can help Republicans in 2018 and 2020. I can’t say exactly how the Venn diagram would look, but I suspect Trump and the Koch brothers overlap on about 90 percent of the issues they both care about.
As president, Trump is the leader of the Republican Party. As such, he is supposed to be the steward of the Republican coalition in America. He can’t rely just on his piece of the coalition to win the next presidential election, let alone the upcoming midterms. It wasn’t just a narrow slice of Trumpkin voters who produced his upset victory in 2016. Team Trump would be wise to remember the words of my old boss, Lee Atwater, that the Republican Party is a “big tent.” There are plenty of Republicans who are pro-choice, pro-free trade and pro-gay rights and who think the United States could stand to reduce its military footprint abroad and be more aggressive about cutting deficits. Trump received much of their support in 2016. The GOP can’t abandon those voters in 2018, and Trump will need them in 2020 to have any chance at reelection.
Maybe Trump is resentful at some level of the Koch brothers’ successes. Or maybe he has a chip on his shoulder because they’ve been outspoken at times about his demeanor. Or maybe it is all about trade policy. But as the Wall Street Journal editorial board aptly put it Wednesday, “Pro-growth cuts in tax rates, deregulation and originalist judges have been the most successful parts of the Trump agenda. And they were Koch beliefs when Mr. Trump was still donating to Bill and Hillary Clinton.” That may not be what the president wants to hear, but it is the truth.
With that said, the Trump-Koch feud hasn’t escalated to a point beyond repair. And thankfully Trump’s bark when directed at Republicans often doesn’t go any further. Just ask Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) or Marc Rubio (R-Fla.).
Once again, Republicans are doing what the Democrats want us to do. I’m sure the Democrats are delighted at the idea that the source of several hundreds of millions of dollars for Republicans is being harassed and hounded by the incumbent Republican machinery. I know it’s not fashionable in the Republican Party today, but it is worth repeating: Politics is all about addition, not subtraction. If the Koch organization is alienated, that subtracts money and people. Even if the president doesn’t want to do the right thing, he would be well served by doing the selfish thing and keeping the Republican big tent as big as it was when he got elected.