President Trump lashed out at the Koch brothers Tuesday, saying their conservative political funding and policy network has “become a total joke in real Republican circles” and is “highly overrated.”
The president’s assessment, made in a flurry of morning tweets, followed a weekend gathering at which top officials affiliated with billionaire industrialist Charles Koch sought to distance the network from Trump and his base in the Republican Party, citing tariff and immigration policies and “divisive” rhetoric out of Washington.
While it is true that, as a whole, Koch may not find the Democratic Party sympathetic to his libertarian philosophy, there are more areas of conflict with the Trumpized GOP — gay rights, immigration, debt, trade and government intervention in the economy — than ever before. No one thinks the Koch behemoth is going to take the place of organized labor as the financial backbone of the Democratic Party, but nothing requires Koch to support any candidates. He has already said he won’t support GOP candidates in North Dakota and Nevada.
Meanwhile, business groups, alarmed at Trump’s protectionism, deficit spending and opposition to immigration, are rethinking blind loyalty to the GOP:
Business groups, at war with President Donald Trump over trade and immigration, say they’re taking steps to rebuild the political center — including taking fresh looks at moderate Democrats.
The American Bankers Association this month began airing ads in support of candidates for the first time, including Democrats Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Rep. Lou Correa of California. The International Franchise Association has more than doubled its support to Democrats this cycle, with 27 percent of its donations going to centrists in the party. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which leans heavily Republican, endorsed Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey over Republican John McCann, who has the support of former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka.
That’s just common sense.
Moreover, pundits misread 21st century businesses’ interests. Chief executives aren’t libertarians. Executives of major corporations are socially liberal (bigotry is bad for business) and want improved infrastructure and education. As we saw with Trump’s pullout from the Paris climate accord, even oil company executives recognize climate change and favor energy diversification.
It has been true for some time that the small-government conservatism that GOP candidates used to tout hasn’t much of a constituency in either party. But that doesn’t mean the business sector doesn’t have any alternative to Trump’s GOP. They can weigh in favor of anti-Trump candidates (in both parties) and advocate center-right policies (e.g. trade, robust immigration, worker training, infrastructure). And by pulling out of two prominent Senate races, Koch signaled that moderate Democrats running in those states aren’t a threat to their interests.
The rub for Republicans will be tax policy. Here’s the thing: Voters don’t like a parade of tax cuts for the rich or corporations whether it is Trump or Koch selling them. Koch and business interests would be much more influential if they finally got serious about tax reform (e.g. broadening the base, lowering rates) — and that is something both parties could support as they did in Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax plan.
In sum, Trump has all but killed off what was left of GOP antagonism toward government and rhetoric about “small government.” Now we are just fighting over what policies and people big government should favor. In that arena, Democrats who stick to sensible centrist policies (investment in workers, school reform, expansion of the earned income tax credit, legalization of Dreamers, robust trade with protection for American intellectual property, stop debt-creating tax plans) may be the most attractive option for former GOP donors and, most important, former GOP voters.