In 2016, the conservative Americans for Prosperity organization made the decision to pull out of national federal campaigns and concentrate on supporting conservative issues. This was a big blow to conservative candidates who had counted on Charles and David Koch and their AFP Action PAC to fund their campaigns.
Part of the reason is that the libertarian and establishment-minded Kochs couldn’t stomach Donald Trump. But it was mostly because their huge investments in Republican candidates weren’t paying off. So the brothers dialed back their support for GOP candidates.
Now, seven years later, Charles Koch — James died in 2019 — is once again looking to make his imprint on Republican politics. Not only is AFP going to back GOP candidates Koch thinks can win in the primaries, but the organization has made crystal clear that it will back a GOP presidential candidate who can “turn the page” on the past,” according to the AFP memo released on Saturday.
“To write a new chapter for our country, we need to turn the page on the past,” the document reads. “So the best thing for the country would be to have a president in 2025 who represents a new chapter. The American people have shown that they’re ready to move on, and so AFP will help them do that.”
AFP didn’t say how much it would spend but boasts of a large grass-roots and data operation. “The states with some of our strongest and most effective state chapters are the same ones that will play a crucial role in nominating the next Republican presidential candidate,” reads the memo, written by CEO Emily Seidel.
A related super political-action committee, AFP Action, “is prepared to support a candidate in the Republican presidential primary who can lead our country forward, and who can win,” the memo stated.
AFP says that Republicans have been nominating “bad candidates” in recent election cycles.
The group also said it would wade into congressional primaries earlier than it has in the past, arguing the GOP is “nominating bad candidates who are advocating for things that go against core American principles” while Democrats yield more to liberals who now animate the party. Trump-backed candidates lost some key Senate and governor races in 2022 after winning competitive GOP primaries.
“This means the country is in a downward spiral, with both parties reinforcing the bad behavior of the other,” the memo reads. “And to make matters worse, very few voters participate in primaries—and that’s where these candidates are chosen. This makes it impossible to get good things done in Washington.”
The memo didn’t mention Donald Trump. It didn’t have to. Moving on from the “past” and referencing “bad candidates” means that David Koch has declared war on Trump.
Trump’s fundraising has been lagging since he declared his candidacy. I wonder how much energy this will inject into his campaign?
One thing this announcement is going to do is energize some of the more establishment candidates.
Several Republicans weighing 2024 bids have longstanding ties to Koch world, including former Vice President Mike Pence. Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff and longtime aide, once oversaw political operations at the Koch network.
Another potential contender, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, had the financial backing of Koch political committees when he represented Wichita – where Koch Industries is headquartered – as a congressman. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is expected to announce her bid for the Republican nomination later this month, has attended at least one Koch donor conclave. And a Koch-backed super PAC supported Ron DeSantis before he won a competitive GOP primary in 2018 on his way to becoming governor.
The libertarian-leaning network has engaged in a public reset of its priorities in recent years and worked to distance itself from the Republican brand during the Trump era.
Add Nikki Haley to that list of potential Koch-backed candidates. It’s not that any of those candidates can win. But they’re going to make the GOP primaries more interesting.
As for the AFP getting involved in GOP primaries, one thing we’ve learned over the last three election cycles is that money may be the “mother’s milk” of politics, but it’s not the dominant force it was even a couple of decades ago. This is a different Republican Party that David Koch is coming back to. And it’s an open question whether there’s any room in the party for his brand of conservatism.