The network of donors and activist groups led by conservative billionaire Charles Koch will oppose Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination, mounting a direct challenge to the former president’s campaign to win back the White House.
The move marks the most notable example to date of an overt and coordinated effort from within conservative circles to stop Trump from winning the GOP nomination for a third straight presidential election. Some Republicans have grown increasingly frustrated with Trump after disappointing midterm elections in which he drew blame for elevating flawed candidates and polarizing ideas. But absent a consolidated effort to stop Trump, many critics fear he will be able to exploit GOP divisions and chart a course to the nomination as he did in 2016.
While the memo didn’t name a spending target, AFP’s affiliated super PAC spent more than $69 million in the 2022 cycle, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures. The Koch network joins the Club for Growth, another of the largest outside spenders, and several of the party’s biggest individual donors, such as finance billionaires Kenneth C. Griffin and Stephen A. Schwarzman in signaling their opposition to Trump’s current campaign. Others are holding back for now.
The salvo from one of the biggest spenders in American politics marks a reversal after sitting out the past two presidential primaries. The Koch network has stayed on the sidelines since 2015, when it identified five approved presidential candidates, all of whom fell to Trump.
To avoid a repeat of that outcome, the network plans to endorse a single candidate by the end of this summer, according to a person familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were confidential. “AFP Action is prepared to support a candidate in the Republican presidential primary who can lead our country forward, and who can win,” Seidel wrote in the memo.
How AFP follows through on the memo’s dramatic aims remains to be seen. The organization has in the past rolled out ambitious plans to influence primaries that did not eventually measure up. In the years since the Koch network stepped back from presidential primaries, many of its top donors drifted away toward other outfits or their own causes, and many of its most prominent strategists and operatives, such as Marc Short, Tim Phillips and Mike Roman, moved on to other jobs. Koch has also invested heavily in policy work and community-based organizations outside of direct spending on elections.
To get scoops, sharp political analysis and accountability journalism in your inbox each morning, sign up for The Early 202.
The decision by the powerful network to challenge Trump marks an escalation of a long-simmering feud over the GOP’s core policy commitments. Trump’s brand of economic nationalism has clashed with the free-trade inclinations of the Koch network. “The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade,” Trump wrote on Twitter in 2018, referring to Charles and his brother David, who died in 2019. Trump and the Koch network have been more aligned on opposing foreign interventions and reducing nonviolent criminal sentences.
The industrialist brothers assembled an influential network of groups that have sought to have a major impact in the political process. Sunday’s memo expressed frustration with the direction of American politics in the Trump era. “The Republican Party is nominating bad candidates who are advocating for things that go against core American principles. And the American people are rejecting them,” Seidel wrote. “If we want better candidates, we’ve got to get involved in elections earlier and in more primaries.”
The memo indicated that AFP will get involved earlier and more aggressively in congressional races, in addition to the presidential primary.
The plan was unveiled to donors this weekend at a meeting of the Koch network in the resort city of Palm Springs, Calif. Elected officials present included Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) and Rep. Andrew Ogles (R-Tenn.), whose campaigns the AFP super PAC supported in 2022. (Schmitt recently endorsed Trump.)
The memo pledged to marshal resources, including a million grass-roots activists across all 50 states, data targeting technology known as i360, and the Latino outreach organization Libre. The memo said that in last year’s races, AFP and its affiliated super PAC knocked on more than 7 million doors, delivered more than 100 million pieces of mail and contacted millions more voters by phone and email.
“The American people have shown that they’re ready to move on, and so AFP will help them do that,” Seidel said in the memo.