President Donald Trump has had the support of major Republican donors since his presidential campaign, but that relationship appears to have become strained as the commander-in-chief’s top financial backers voice concern about the potentially negative impact he could have on the 2018 midterm elections, FOX Business has learned.
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At a social gathering hosted over the Presidents Day weekend by the billionaire David Koch in Palm Beach, Florida, one of the topics of discussion was the possible influence Trump may have, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
The reaction from the donors at the event was mixed. While they agreed to support Koch’s social agenda of corporate welfare reform and modifying the criminal justice system, many privately noted their concern with how the president has conducted himself on Twitter and in front of the microphone, according to people close to the Koch network of donors.
“The primary purpose of the gathering was to discuss important social change issues, such as criminal justice reform that will help people improve their lives," James Davis, a spokesman for the Koch network, told FOX Business. He declined to comment further on the guest list or private discussions that took place.
The Koch brothers and their allies have tried to rein in Trump’s public attacks by reaching out to outside advisers to see if they can curb his criticism of party figures such as Attorney General and former Republican Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, according to people familiar with the situation.
Those efforts seem to have gone unanswered as Trump took to Twitter again on Wednesday to go after the leader of his Justice Department, questioning his efforts to look into what the president claims to be an abuse of power for the use of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to spy on former Trump campaign officials.
David and Charles Koch have been part of Republican money circles for more than a decade. David entered politics as a vice presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party in the 1980 presidential election, only to abandon that cause in 1984 when it supported fully eliminating taxes and become a Republican. Koch’s elder brother and the CEO of Koch Industries, Charles, has been a supporter of ideas similar to those of the anti-government Tea Party.
The brothers’ national influence became evident after the Supreme Court sided in 2010 with billionaires across the country in declaring in the Citizens United vs. FEC decision that corporations can give unlimited amounts to political movements. Since then, their company has continued to support numerous members of Congress and presidential candidates through contributions to political action committees.
The two Koch organizations that have become the most prominent in several political circles are Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners. Both have the financial backing of the Koch brothers and are responsible for publishing research that supports the Republican platform including recent articles on the benefits of tax reform.
Each group is a nonprofit and isn’t required to disclose donors. But the super PAC associated with Freedom Partners, the Freedom Partners Action Fund, shows an influx of support from the Koch brothers, including a $3 million contribution through Charles Koch’s trust, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
While the Koch brothers did not jump on the Trump bandwagon during the 2016 election, they pivoted toward him once he became president and have been vocal enthusiasts of the Republican agenda under the new administration. In a new document first published by The Intercept, the Koch billionaire network appears to praise the GOP for passing comprehensive tax reform legislation.
“Enacting principled, comprehensive tax reform has been the Seminar Network’s top policy priority throughout 2017, and we are proud of the progress that this bill makes toward that goal,” the document said. The Seminar Network is the formal name of the billion-dollar donor network run by the Koch brothers.
The polls back up the Koch brothers’ fear that Trump might get in the way of any chance of holding on to the House of Representatives during this year’s election. In a recent Quinnipiac University survey, the president’s approval rating dipped back under 40%, with only 37% of voters supporting him as the commander-in-chief. That same poll shows 72% of participants claim they disprove of the way Republicans have handled their job in Congress.
Republican strategists know they have a disadvantage going into the midterms and understand the Koch brothers’ concern.
"They're right to be concerned about traditional suburban Republican voters this cycle,” one GOP strategist told FOX Business on condition of anonymity. “No demographic has the ability to influence House Republican incumbents in as big of a way as this group.”