David Koch told GOP donors at a private New York City fundraiser Apr. 20 that he and brother Charles preferred a wholly-owned Koch Industries subsidiary known as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as the next president. He doubled down in subsequent interviews saying that Walker was not only the likely survivor in a large Republican primary field, but he would then go on to defeat Hillary Clinton “by a major margin.”
Even as the ridicule heated up – including Andy Borowitz’s brilliant New Yorker magazine satire that the Kochs had paid too much for the acquisition of the Walker franchise – David Koch backtracked, saying he was misquoted and that the Koch boys were still kicking the tires of the entire GOP clown car and that they would even give Jeb Bush an audition.
The 24-hour turnaround exposed the underbelly of the dark money that after the Citizens United decision has turned the United States into what many Democrats have long feared – an oligarchy, not a democracy, where a few older rich financiers are convinced the manipulative advertising power of their secret money coordinated with the candidate messaging will crush independent thinking.
But this time many Republicans believe that libertarian David Koch got ahead of his own pack by singling out Walker. The 17 secret conduits that form the Koch network that have pledged an astounding $900 million to the GOP candidate just haven’t made up their minds the way David Koch has – he simply can’t drag them along should Walker fade. Many want a chance to assess Marco Rubio and even Ohio Gov. John Kasich or fall back on the Wall Street affection for Jeb, who is raising money from many of their peers.
These business folks can read balance sheets and know what the national media has been slow to report: Walker is facing a rebellion in his own ranks only kept in check by his state GOP apparatchiks.
Hardly liberal constituents are mad as hell at Walker’s new cuts to K-12 and higher education, refusal to expand Medicaid, $2.4 billion deficit, the freezing for 13 years of stewardship land purchases, the elimination of nature and utility citizen boards and local tax control, the abandonment of cheaper public insurance programs for costlier private takeover, plus dozens of items riddling the two-year state budget and designed to enhance Walker’s presidential ambitions at state expense.
As Prof. Marc Levine has outlined, four years of Walker have spelled decline for Wisconsin, which now badly lags the nation in financial and job growth.
What’s keeping his legislative majority in check are warnings that his minions will use Walker’s national media allure and Koch-like money to primary them out of power in 2016 elections should they rebel. That threat has limited how they can ward off the growing alarm from district residents. So at home Walker is in big trouble and it is mainly national media jaunts and secret money sources that are propping him up.
Walker is a slick retail politician that veteran journalist Bruce Murphy feels is constantly underestimated in his slipperiness while he plays up his Tea Party intransigence. So the Kochs hope Walker will endure as less extreme than Ted Cruz, more malleable than Rand Paul, more appealing than Rubio, Kasich, or Bush and not descend into this year’s version of Herman Cain in 2012.
The Koch distaste for Jeb deals with more than his inherited last name. They heavily backed him in crazy misguided 2012 confidence. The Kochs believe that loss wasn’t their wasted money but because Romney moderated his stance compared to Walker’s take-no-prisoners image. They similarly distrust Bush’s attempt to prepare for the middle by suggesting a more humane approach to immigrants and common core standards in education, both approaches the Koch camp despises.
Don’t try to sell Bush as a moderate to Floridians who recall how he even talked his younger brother president and Congress into keeping the brain dead Terri Schiavo alive despite scientific realities. They also recall the two-term governor who opposed abortion in all forms though it is the law of the land, supported blanket gun rights, eliminated affirmative action for state and university jobs and told mothers on welfare to get a job or a husband – hardly the centrist credentials he is softly selling while still hoping for hardcore right money.
The Kochs also realize that Bush is well-heeled enough to compete without them, though if he can grab their $900 million in the end he might outweigh the equally well-heeled Clinton in a contest likely to cost billions.
Walker more desperately needs the Kochs and has clung to their brand since 2008 when, as Milwaukee county executive, he signed their mouthpiece organization’s pledge to deny climate change. He has hung with their major profiteer views for years opposing unions, Obamacare, trains, wind and solar in favor of fossil fuels and also pushing rank privatization and tax credits for big businesses.
Even before he knew the brothers personally, his hunger for their support caused him great embarrassment in 2011 when radio wag Ian Murphy got the new governor to grovel all over his pretense of being David Koch in an immediately accepted phone call that is still a huge laugh – actually divided into two outings — on Youtube.
“Scott has smartened up since then,” a GOP operative told me this year. “He needs the Koch money more than ever but now he will never let the public see how desperately. He’ll even pretend indifference.”
It’s a delicate game. In 2012, Walker survived a recall election somewhat because of public distaste for the concept of recalls but mainly because of unlimited campaign finance rules for a threatened governor in midterm. That $30.5 million to $3.9 million funding advantage from 14 billionaires, 13 out of state, gave him a 53.1 percent to 46.3 percent victory. But that would clearly have been impossible without the Kochs and friends, including Diane Hendricks, who inherited the ABC Supply company and gave him $500,000 for that race. She was the Koch ally to whom Walker revealed on video his “divide and conquer” strategy against unions, yet even that didn’t propel a recall.
Many think David Koch did not make a slip of the tongue in Manhattan but was assuring Walker would stay in, whatever his qualifications. In effect he pledged future funding despite the governor’s proven administrative ineptness and fiscal incompetence.