The Morning Jolt

White House

The Trump-Koch Alliance of Convenience Starts to Split

David H. Koch (1940–2019) (Carlo Allegri / Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The functional alliance between the Koch network and the Trump administration always ran on good policy outcomes, and once that ended, a split was inevitable; Washington’s lobbyists and bureaucrats live down to their worst reputations; and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes makes a revealing comment about the audience’s interest in climate change.

The Trump-Koch Alliance of Convenience Starts to Split Apart

President Trump began his morning fuming about the Koch brothers:

The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade. I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas. They love my Tax & Regulation Cuts, Judicial picks & more. I made them richer. Their network is highly overrated, I have beaten them at every turn. They want to protect their companies outside the U.S. from being taxed, I’m for America First & the American Worker — a puppet for no one. Two nice guys with bad ideas. Make America Great Again!

It’s hard to be “highly overrated” when you win most of your battles. In 2016, seven of eight Koch-backed Senate Republicans and 96 percent of all Koch-backed candidates nationwide won on Election Day. The Koch network spent $250 million in that cycle but effectively sat out the presidential race, as Charles Koch summarized the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the choice between “cancer or a heart attack.”

What probably has Trump so irked, besides the past criticism, is the network’s announcement that they would not support GOP representative Kevin Cramer in his race to unseat vulnerable Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota. The network is upset that Cramer supported a $1.3 trillion spending measure in March, he’s taken a very measured tone in his discussion of the administration’s trade tariffs, and earlier this month he “commended the President for instructing the USDA to give our farmers a safety net during this short term uncertainty” — in other words, more government spending.

Let’s get real. North Dakota is one of the cheapest states to run a Senate campaign. In 2012, Heidi Heitkamp and Rick Berg spent a combined $11.7 million. In 2012, the average winner alone spent $10.2 million. The only poll since February put Cramer up by four. This isn’t likely to hurt Cramer that much, nor alter the odds of Republicans controlling the Senate significantly. This is the lowest-cost, minimally consequential “shot across the bow” that the Koch network can throw at the Republican party.

One of the things that separates the Koch network from other political groups is that they don’t just swoop in with television advertising in the closing months of a campaign. At their twice-yearly conferences, they like to tout their “permanent grassroots infrastructure in 36 states.” Americans for Prosperity is the most visible arm of the network, but in recent years others have sprung up: the Libre Initiative, aimed at America’s Latino communities; Generation Opportunity, which focuses on Millennials; Concerned Veterans for America, which addresses veterans’ issues; and Stand Together, which endeavors to build social capital.

One of my recurring irritations with coverage of the Koch network is that a lot of correspondents don’t really understand the Koch network philosophy, which will overlap with the Trump administration’s on issues such as taxes and regulation but have massive differences on trade and immigration. As I put it earlier this year, the Kochs are libertarians, and a particular kind of communitarian libertarian, if that doesn’t seem too contradictory. Their passions are for reducing the size of government, promoting entrepreneurship, solving social problems through community organizations, and, particularly this year, criminal-justice reform and anti-recidivism programs in prisons.

Some traditional libertarian causes aren’t really on their radar screen because not all donors share the Kochs’ libertarianism. At their conferences, you won’t hear much about government surveillance, the joys of legal drugs or the Second Amendment; those topics just aren’t their thing. It’s also not clear how uniformly socially conservative their donors are; if you drew a Venn diagram of the Koch-network donors and the attendees of, say, the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual meeting, you probably wouldn’t see a huge overlap.

Back in January, I wrote that the Koch agenda and Trump administration agenda were aligning more than either side expected — lower taxes, rolling back regulations, excellent judicial nominations. But a lot can change in six months. The administration has charged full speed ahead on tariffs and trade wars and is talking up $12 billion in aid to farmers. The deficit is likely to hit $1 trillion this year and for several years to come, a spending habit that we had hoped to have left behind in the early Obama years. The hopes for any immigration reform are pretty much kaput, and the separation of children from parents at the border doesn’t align with the Koch hope for an immigration policy that “treats everyone with dignity.” Entitlement reform is off the table, and congressional Republicans show little appetite for a broad-based reform agenda. At their meetings, most members of the network make clear that they find nothing to like in Trump’s incendiary comments and Twitter tirades. Good policy kept them on board, not his style.

In February, I wrote “Trump and the Kochs aren’t friends, they’re allies of convenience. And if the Kochs start to believe Trump endangers their vision of a society of maximized freedom and minimal barriers to pursuing the American dream, that alliance will break quickly.”

Well . . . here we are.

Lobbyists and Bureaucrats, Living Down to Their Reputation

This morning brings two more stories that illustrate why Washington is still a swamp, and why the disdain from the rest of the country is well-earned.

A comment from Politico’s morning newsletter, about the incentives for top-tier lobbyists, as revealed by the Paul Manafort indictment:

Blue chip clients — Fortune 500 companies, and the like — used to shell out massive retainers to lobbyists for basic government-relations work. No longer. So many lobbyists who want to keep up their high-flying lifestyle or make their corporate overlords happy have gone overseas to represent despots and strongmen who are willing to pay piles of dough because they have massive reputational problems and have a hard time finding someone willing to take up their cause in the U.S.

FOREIGN CLIENTS are often willing to pay ten times the fees for a sliver of the work. That’s created a skewed incentive structure that encourages operatives to take work from unsavory figures.

— WHILE UNSAVORY, IT’S ATTRACTIVE WORK. Countries fly American lobbyists all over the world in first class. They pay huge sums. They treat these influence peddlers like royalty. Tony Podesta saw himself as a man about the globe. Who wouldn’t like that?

Who wouldn’t like that? Oh, I don’t know, anybody with enough of a functioning conscience to be troubled by working for infamous dictators and brutal regimes? I mean, if the Islamic State had wanted a lobbyist and offered to finance a “man about the globe” lifestyle, would you take the money? “You have to see the luxury condo in Raqqa that they’re offering!”

Meanwhile, over in the civil service . . .

The personnel chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency — who resigned just weeks ago — is under investigation after being accused of creating an atmosphere of widespread sexual harassment over years in which women were hired as possible sexual partners for male employees, the agency’s leader said Monday.

Your tax dollars at work! Notice this is a guy hired in 2011 from the U.S. Secret Service, and the alleged repulsive behavior goes back to 2015; the article quotes officials as saying, “Many of the men and women Coleman hired were unqualified yet are still at the agency.” (Lots of unqualified workers at FEMA? Hey, what’s the worst that can happen?)

This is not a Trump scandal; this is not an Obama scandal. This is a “federal workers behaving badly, for a long time, in a way that a lot of people know and can see, with zero accountability” scandal.

Gee, if only someone had written a book about why the federal bureaucracy is the way it is . . . and if only the Trump appointees, so full of hopes to overhaul how government works, had read it.

A Revealing Quote about Climate-Change Coverage

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, discussing coverage of climate change and global warming: “Almost without exception, every single time we’ve covered [it], it’s been a palpable ratings killer.” Now, just think, this is an MSNBC audience, which presumably agrees with the arguments and believes in climate change. This is the television-news audience most inclined to watch segments discussing the issue. And Chris Hayes sees a “palpable” change in his ratings over it.

I could be wrong, but I suspect it’s because a lot of climate-change coverage offers the same predictable and usually deeply depressing themes, even if you agree with the scientific consensus: 1) The situation is terrible and it’s too late to really make any meaningful difference. 2) It’s all the fault of those people — those who drive SUVs, eat Big Macs, the Trump administration, coal miners. Environmental coverage rarely emphasizes that the wealthy elites in the audience — say, people who fly on airplanes frequently — add to carbon emissions.

I notice we don’t see a lot of cable news segments about the ticking time bomb of entitlement programs, and too many retirees and not enough workers. So maybe it’s just that television-news viewers don’t like hearing about problems that they think won’t affect them for a long while.

ADDENDUM: Bloomberg serves up a map showcasing how the United States uses its land, and inadvertently reveals the awesome power of Big Maple Syrup.

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