At an event in California last weekend, the Koch family political network announced it would move away from Donald Trump, and invest in congressional elections in a bid to break from the far-right, Trump-supporting politicians who have come to the fore in recent years.
Americans for Prosperity Action, founded by Republican megadonors Charles Koch and David Koch, who died in 2019, would be seeking to “turn the page on the past”, it said, in remarks that were covered extensively, and favorably, in the US media.
But it didn’t take much to expose the hypocrisy of AFP Action’s commitment to move away from Maga politicians who, it said, “go against core American principles”.
Present at the network’s meeting in Palm Springs were two of the reactionary and far-right Republicans AFP Action claims it is trying to thwart.
In Eric Schmitt, a Missouri senator, and Andrew Ogles, a congressman from Tennessee, AFP Action had invited two newly elected men who tried vigorously to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and seem to have little interest in turning the page on history.
Schmitt, who has invoked the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, has already backed Trump for 2024, while Ogles, a culture warrior whose campaign pitch was that the US needs to “go back to honoring God and country”, giddily accepted Trump’s endorsement last year.
If, in inviting two politicians who appear to embody the essence of Trumpism, AFP Action exposed a separation between what it says and what does, then it should come as no surprise.
For much of the last decade the Koch-funded group has pledged to move away from far-right Republicans, before sending tens of millions of dollars towards those very officials.
As the investigative newsletter Popular Information put it: “The reality is that few individuals have spent more money to legitimize Trump and his allies than Charles Koch.”
In 2020, Charles Koch, who has an estimated net worth of $68bn, told the Wall Street Journal he would focus on “building bridges across partisan divides to find answers to sprawling social problems”. In a book, published that year, Koch said he regretted his funding of the Tea Party, a far-right movement that emerged under Barack Obama’s presidency.
At the beginning of 2021, AFP Action chided Republicans’ actions around the January 6 insurrection and their efforts to prevent Biden taking office. A total of 147 Republicans in Congress voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
“Lawmakers’ actions leading up to and during last week’s insurrection will weigh heavy in our evaluation of future support,” the organization said.
But the pledges from Koch and his network did not come to pass. AFP Action spent $63.4m in the two years leading up to the 2022 midterm elections. Popular Information reported that 86.7% of that spending went to candidates who had been endorsed by Trump.
More than $5m of that spending went towards Schmitt’s campaign, according to Open Secrets, while AFP Action spent $302,453 supporting Ogles.
In announcing its move away from Trump, AFP Action said: “The Republican Party is nominating bad candidates who are advocating for things that go against core American principles.”
“To write a new chapter for our country, we need to turn the page on the past,” AFP Action said in an accompanying memo.
“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 Action said it would get involved in elections “earlier and in more primaries” in a bid to turn out more voters and elect what it described as “better people”.
But in inviting Schmitt and Ogles – their attendance was first reported by the Washington Post – AFP Action sent a mixed message. Both candidates have tied themselves to a former president that Koch’s network says it is ready to ditch.
Neither Schmitt nor Ogles replied to requests for comment, but they would appear to have a history of advocating for things that go against what some would define as core American principles.
Ogles, a former county mayor who previously described himself as the “most conservative mayor in Tennessee”, said people were “defrauded out of a true and honest election” as he denied the legitimacy of Biden’s 2020 victory.
In one of his first acts in Congress, Ogles joined with a gang of hard-right Republicans to vote against Kevin McCarthy for the House speaker, a move which triggered an embarrassing saga for the GOP and was condemned by Republican leadership.
Ogles, who during his campaign for the House said conservatives need to “go after gay marriage”, used a flamethrower last July to illustrate what he thinks of Joe Biden’s policies.
“We’re at war. This is a political war, a cultural war, and it’s a spiritual war,” Ogles said in his victory speech in November. “And as we go forward, we’ve got to get back to honoring God and country.”
During his primary campaign, Ogles called for Biden and Harris to be impeached. He has also said Alejandro Mayorkas, the Department of Homeland Security secretary, should be charged with treason over the administration’s handling of immigration issues.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, on Tuesday, Ogles was one of the Republicans who heckled Biden during his State of the Union address.
During the weekend at AFP Action’s California retreat, Ogles probably found a kindred spirit in Schmitt, who has already said he will support Trump for president in 2024.
As Missouri attorney general, Schmitt was one of the Republican attorneys general who challenged election results in Pennsylvania in 2020. He also signed on to a separate lawsuit, which attempted to overturn election results in Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
While in the same office, Schmitt signed a lawsuit, with others, arguing LGBTQ people were not protected against discrimination under federal law.
Since then, Schmitt has spoken of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which charges that Democrats are seeking to disempower white people through changing the racial makeup of the US. Democrats, Schmitt said, are “fundamentally trying to change this country through illegal immigration”.
Neither candidate represents a break with the past, and it raises questions as to the seriousness of AFP Action’s new path. The organization did not respond to requests for comment.
As Popular Information reported, this is not AFP Action’s first contradiction.
In 2018, Koch criticized Trump’s presidency, and said he would be willing to back Democrats. AFP Action went on to spend $3,948,640 supporting Republicans and $2,835,924 opposing Democrats, Popular Information reported, and zero dollars on Democrats.
Given Koch’s, and AFP Action’s history, it seems unlikely there will be much change in the future.
And for all AFP Action’s talk of “bad candidates who are advocating for things that go against core American principles”, and of ending bipartisanship, it seems perfectly happy with the Republican members of Congress so far.
On an AFP Action “national scorecard”, which gives elected officials scores out of 100 for their performance in office, so far every single Republican has a score of 100.
Source: The Guardian