Could The Koch Brothers Save The GOP’s Congressional Majorities?

The fundraising news from the 4th quarter of last year was grim for the Grand Ole Party.  Per a piece from Politico, nine of ten Democrats running for reelection in states Trump won raised over $1 million in the 4th quarter of 2017.  Not a single Republican challenging them hit the mark.  Only Joe Manchin raised less than $1 million in West Virginia which might explain why he seems to be running scared.   Even Dean Heller, the lone Republican Senator running in a state Clinton won, Nevada, raised a meager $821,000 while his likely opponent brought in almost double that.

A few Republicans did manage to raise over $1 million.  Businessman Mike Braun loaned his campaign $1.75 million in his uphill bid to win the GOP primary in Indiana, businessman Sandy Pensler who loaned his campaign a massive $5 million in Michigan, Rep. Martha McSally in AZ and Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Rep. Stephen Fincher in Tennessee.  Yet, even in Arizona,  McSally’s haul was eclipsed by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema who raised $1.6 million and had $5.1 million hand.

Democrats don’t lack for cash.  For example, in Missouri, Claire McCaskill, arguably the most endangered Democrat this cycle, has a massive $9.1 million war chest.  Indiana’s Joe Donnelly has $5.3 million.  Attorney General Josh Hawley, McCaskill’s likely GOP challenger, has a meager $1.2 million stockpiled.  The likely top challengers to Donnelly both have war chests from their Congressional campaigns but will likely deplete it bashing each other.  In more of a reach state, Rep. Lou Barletta has a meager $500,000 compared to Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey’s $8.6 million.  Worse, despite being in the majority, the DSCC raised $54 million to the NRSC’s $41.5 million.  Outside liberal groups, Senate Majority PAC and Majority Forward, even out-raised the Mitch McConnell-backed Senate Leadership Forward and One Nation by a narrow margin in 2017.  Such results have Republicans understandably spooked.

But, Republicans have a trump card.  Okay, they have two.  First, the successful overhaul of the nation’s taxes is likely to spur large GOP donors to get involved.  Secondly, and more importantly, it seems to have spurred the Koch Brothers to get reinvested in the midterms.  Indeed, the Koch Brothers have done a complete 180 at the start of the cycle from saying they would not be involved to stating they intent to spend a whopping $400 million on supporting conservative policies and protecting the GOP Congressional majorities.

For House Republicans it might not make a huge difference.  The House battleground seems to be already set and shifting leftward though if tax reform does its magic the GOP majority might be narrowly saved.  But, it is in statewide Senate races where the massive Koch network might matter more.  In North Carolina, Americans for Prosperity is largely credited with getting the uninspired reelection campaign of Richard Burr over the finish line.

Democrats had reportedly been worried the Koch Brothers would get involved and it is easy to see why.  The close to $400 million pledge is 60 percent more than the network spent in 2016 and a large portion of it will be spent on directly selling the tax law to voters at a time when many GOP Senate candidates will be attacking their opponents for opposing the reform.  The network includes several groups that can work in parallel with Senate and state campaigns.  Such a daunting amount of cash would easily swamp any cash edge Democratic incumbents and challengers have over their GOP counterparts.

Beyond Congress, the results could be even more profound down-ballot.  The Koch Network in 2010 was absolutely crucial in working with the NRLC to win dozens of legislatures and purple governorships.  In an electoral environment where Democrats are targeting legislatures and Governorships in the run-up to 2020 and redistricting any help would be crucial.  The grassroots organizing and getting out the vote efforts of the Koch Network could have an amplified effect in legislative contests which are incredibly partisan and low turnout.

Still, a lot can change quickly.  Even $400 million and grassroots organizing cannot change the public’s reactions to Trump’s tweets or controversies.  The President will have to help his party weather the storm and talk up the positive economy.  It is unclear if he will.  Case in point being Trump veering off script on two of his aides resigning over sexual assault allegations.  In many cases, this leaves Republicans at the mercy of something they cannot control.

Further, the Koch Brothers are not in lock-step with the Trump administration.  Arguably, they had more in common with past traditionally conservative administrations which downplayed the populism and favored free trade, entitlement and immigration reform.  Trump opposes entitlement reform and is not a fan of free trade.  While the President certainly favors putting conservative jurists on the courts, tax reform and deregulation he is far from friendly to immigration reform and has staked out a more conservative position on prison reform than former GOP Presidents.  This tension between the administration and Koch Network inevitably is felt by every Republican.

Still, considering how far left on, well, EVERYTHING, the Democratic Party has moved, apparently the brothers view their few alliances with the administration as worth it.  Certainly many Republican do.  And endangered Republicans have to feel thankful as a result.

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