Charles Koch Pines For More Influence In Republican Presidential Primary

The powerful billionaire also criticized Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
Billionaire libertarian Charles Koch told the Financial Times that with the hundreds of millions his political network has spent to support Republicans, "You’d think we could have more influence.”
Billionaire libertarian Charles Koch told the Financial Times that with the hundreds of millions his political network has spent to support Republicans, "You’d think we could have more influence.”
The Washington Post/Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Despite leading a massive independent political operation and pumping untold millions into U.S. elections, billionaire Charles Koch is irritated at his extreme lack of influence in the Republican Party presidential primary.

In a candid interview over a lunch of tilapia and pulled pork sandwiches with the Financial Times, Koch said he has presented the 12 remaining Republican candidates with a list of issues that he and his brother, David, care about -- to no avail. “[I]t doesn’t seem to faze them much,” he said. “You’d think we could have more influence.”

Koch and his political operation announced they would spend approximately $889 million over the course of the two-year 2016 election cycle. This spending would not just cover electoral, lobbying and other political expenses, but also Koch’s gifts to universities so they'll teach curriculum adhering to his libertarian economic philosophy and to like-minded nonprofit think tanks influencing and expanding policy debates.

Despite all this promised spending, both Charles and David Koch have declined to endorse a candidate in the primary -- which may be why they lack influence. Their refusal to endorse stems from a desire to save resources for the general election and avoid adding fuel to an internecine conflict within the party they most closely identify with. But, as Koch reveals in his comments to the Financial Times, he veers far from Republican orthodoxy on some basic policy questions -- notably, foreign policy.

In his own statements, Koch has always adhered to a common libertarian position of non-intervention. He criticized the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq under President George W. Bush, which was backed by congressional majorities in both parties at the time. And now, he is criticizing Republicans for their belligerence towards Muslims and a certain GOP candidate's short-sightedness for proposing to carpet-bomb land held by terrorist groups.

“We have been doing this for a dozen years,” he said. “We invaded Afghanistan. We invaded Iraq. Has that made us safer? Has that made the world safer? It seems like we’re more worried about it now than we were then, so we need to examine these strategies.”

The 80-year old Koch also blasted fellow billionaire and Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s call to block Muslims from entering the U.S. for an indefinite period of time.

“Well, then you destroy our free society,” he said of Trump’s plan. “Who is it that said, ‘If you want to defend your liberty, the first thing you’ve got to do is defend the liberty of people you like the least’?”

As for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s announced desire to carpet-bomb all territory held by the so-called Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, Koch dipped into his studies of revolutionary movements for an answer.

“Mao said that the people are the sea in which the revolutionary swims,” he said. “Not that we don’t need to defend ourselves and have better intelligence and all that, but how do we create an unfriendly sea for the terrorists in the Muslim communities? We haven’t done a good job of that.”

With 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, he asked, “What are we going to do: go bomb each one of them?”

Given his policy positions, it's no surprise that Koch has declined to endorse a Republican nominee. The only candidate who comes close to sharing these opinions is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who sits at the back of the pack of GOP candidates in almost all available state polls. A lack of endorsement, or even the possibility of one, neuters Koch’s influence in the primary race.

In the end, of course, Koch and his vast political apparatus will spend hundreds of millions to support Republican Party politicians up and down the ballot -- including the eventual Republican nominee, who will undoubtedly be someone who wants to increase bombing in Syria and Iraq, withdraw from diplomacy with Iran and continue to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia to use in its brutal war in Yemen. (The eventual Democratic Party nominee may be only slightly different, save for that candidate's position on Iran.)

Clearly, Koch’s near-total opposition to government involvement in economic affairs trumps his opposition to carpet-bombing the Middle East and discriminating against Muslim Americans.

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