... while [Republican] voters might find [the large field of presidential candidates] an embarrassment of riches, for the party’s leaders and financiers, it looks like a recipe for trouble. Which is how I interpret this news:But are the Kochs really trying to purge the field of also-rans -- or are they just focusing on the top tier?
In a Saturday interview on the Larry Kudlow Show, a nationally syndicated radio broadcast, David Koch let it slip that the roughly $900 million that he and his brother, Charles, plan to lavish on the 2016 presidential race could find its way into the hands of more than one GOP contender.... By saying they’re going to support several candidates in the primaries, the Kochs are pledging to accelerate the winnowing process, by which the race’s chaff can be sloughed off and the focus can stay on the serious contenders.
“We are thinking of supporting several Republicans,” David Koch said, adding, “If we’re happy with the policies that these individuals are supporting, we’ll finance their campaigns.”
Koch said the brothers would begin writing checks to individual candidates in “the primary season, winter and next spring.”
These are two different strategies. The former means using their money to help push candidates like Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee further to the margins. The latter, which is what I think they're up to, is an attempt to pick a winner among the A-list candidates, or at least push all the potential winners into their ideological camp.
A month ago, Nicholas Confessore of The New York Times reported that the Kochs were throwing their weight behind Scott Walker. The Koch operation pushed back on that reporting, and Politico's Mike Allen subsequently wrote this:
... a top Koch aide revealed to POLITICO that Jeb Bush will be given a chance to audition for the brothers’ support, despite initial skepticism about him at the top of the Kochs’ growing political behemoth.The initial set of invites suggested that the Kochs were concentrating on the big non-Jeb names -- Walker, Rubio, Cruz, and Paul. Jeb was subsequently thrown into the mix because he has (at least at times) looked like a potential winner, and therefore the Kochs want him at least partly dependent on them. Allen wrote:
Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz debated at the Koch network’s winter seminar in January, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made a separate appearance. Those were the candidates who appeared to have a chance at the Koch blessing, and attendees said Rubio seemed to win that round.
But those four -- plus Jeb -- will be invited to the Kochs’ summer conference, the aide said. Bush is getting a second look because so many Koch supporters think he looks like a winner. Other candidates, perhaps Rick Perry or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, may also get invitations.
The Kochs and their advisers will be looking for a candidate who is “solid on economic-freedom issues,” is “a passionate advocate for free markets,” and has “a positive, optimistic, pro-freedom message,” the aide said.This was written about a month after Slate's Alec MacGillis told us this:
A candidate will get considerable extra credit for being on the brothers’ side of reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, which Koch organizations are spending big to oppose.
Jeb Bush has been adamant that he will not switch his positions on two issues, immigration and Common Core standards, that will generate conservative opposition in the Republican primaries. But he just made a major concession to conservatives on another issue of great importance to many of them -- he came out against the U.S. Export-Import Bank. And this new position of Bush’s is not just hard to reconcile with his politics -- it’s hard to reconcile with his own business career.But it's easy to reconcile with Jeb seeking to lick the Kochs' boots.
I don't think Koch funding of primary challengers is about thinning the field. I think it's about bribing the A-listers to come around to their positions, and possibly to weigh in on behalf of a favorite or two from the A list. (I'm guessing that Koch's people are mentioning obvious D-listers Perry and Jindal because they read the mainstream press, where the two are still taken seriously as contenders.)
The Kochs could help do some winnowing now if they really wanted to -- but they're waiting to give until winter and spring. They don't want to thin the herd yet. There'll be plenty of clowning between now and then.