Dan is Mother Jones' deputy DC bureau chief. He is the New York Times best-selling author of Sons of Wichita(Grand Central Publishing), a biography of the Koch brothers that is now out in paperback. Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.
There is one man standing in the way of the Koch brothers' plans to elect a free-market conservative to the White House in November. His name is Donald J. Trump.
The Kochs, whose fascinating political evolution I detail in my book Sons of Wichita, are not fans of the bombastic real estate mogul whose positions on everything from taxes to foreign policy are at odds with theirs. Charles Koch has said Trump's plan to create a Muslim registry would "destroy our free society"—and for months Trump has been a source of debate and discussion within their donor network, which is raising nearly $900 million for the 2016 elections. Early on in the race, some members of the network believed, as did almost everyone else, that Trump would implode on his own. Some still do. And a very small handful of Koch network donors are Trump supporters. But in recent months, the Kochs and their allies—who now are largely leaning toward Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz—have considered a campaign targeting Trump, whose candidacy they believe poses a threat to the Republican Party, if not the country at large.
The Kochs' Trump problem is the topic of my new piece, just out at Vanity Fair. I report:
But Trump's second-place Iowa finish was more a blow to his ego, in some respect, than the viability of his campaign. If he prevails in New Hampshire, where he's maintaining a huge lead in the polls, pressure is likely to mount within the Koch network to launch an offensive before a march to the nomination gains formidable momentum. When the Kochs and several hundred of their allies gathered last weekend for another summit, halting Trump was a major topic of discussion.
What form might this attack take? According to The Hill, the Kochs' operatives have carefully assessed Trump's vulnerabilities—and those of the other candidates—and determined that highlighting his track record of bankruptcies and predatory business deals harms his standing with likely voters. (The Democrats deployed a similar strategy, to great effect, against Romney's "vulture capitalism.")
"As to whether we would mount something like that, everything is on the table,” one senior Koch official told me. "But there's no real plan. In all of our meetings we've discussed it."
One thing that has held the Koch network back so far, in addition to the Trump backers within their ranks, is the concern that taking on Trump would inevitably draw the thin-skinned tycoon's legendary invective, which it almost certainly would. If the Kochs go after Trump, rest assured that he will take every opportunity to highlight how he's being attacked by a cabal of billionaires seeking to control the outcome of the election. And this more or less explains their caution to this point. By taking on Trump, the Kochs risk lending credence to his claims of being an outsider who is battling against a corrupt political system rigged by the elites.
If Trump performs poorly in New Hampshire, the Koch network may be able to avoid a damaging showdown. But if he wins, it may already be too late to halt the runaway Trump train, especially if there's no Trump-targeting campaign in the can. So what happens if Trump seizes the nomination? Here's where things get very interesting.
If Trump becomes the nominee and he faces self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders in November, the senior Koch official explains, members of the donor network are likely to hold their noses and back Trump's candidacy. But there's another scenario that could prove far more controversial and possibly damaging for the network: a Trump-versus-Clinton matchup. There is absolutely no love between the Clintons and the Kochs, whose company experienced one of the most traumatic periods in its history as it fought off regulators during Bill Clinton's presidency. But, so strong is the dislike for Trump within Koch network, that a Clinton-Trump race is a tough call. "I could see the network not participating in the presidential election at all," says the senior Koch official.
This doesn't mean the Koch network would stand down in 2016 entirely. Under this scenario, donors would instead channel their resources into other races. If this were to occur—and it's a very big if—that would be a stunning development for a network of donors that has been amassing such a huge warchest for the presidential race.
Hillary Clinton speaks at George Mason University’s Patriot Center on June 26, 2015.
On Tuesday night, the State Department released some 3,000 pages of emails between Hillary Clinton and her aides during her tenure as secretary of state. The correspondence offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of American diplomacy in action, as well as the former first lady's fashion choices. But some of the more intriguing exchanges involved the media—how her team sought to shape the news, the journalists they considered receptive to their message, and the close degree to which Clinton monitored how she was covered.
Much of this email traffic involved Philippe Reines, a senior advisor and spokesman for Clinton known for his combative exchanges with the press. One email thread that underscored the Clinton team's focus on message-control came in late May 2009, ahead of a meeting of the Organization of American States. Its member-nations span North and South America and were poised to vote on whether to revoke Cuba's decades-long suspension from OAS.
O'Reilly claimed he rescued his bleeding cameraman during a riot in Argentina. But the journo who shot O'Reilly's video says this didn't happen.
David Corn and Daniel SchulmanMar. 30, 2015 11:19 AM
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly continues to insist that he never misrepresented or embellished his wartime reporting experiences and other previous episodes—even after CNN, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Media Matters, and Mother Jones reported significant discrepancies between O'Reilly's accounts and what actually occurred. Last Tuesday, O'Reilly appeared on David Letterman's show, where he maintained he had always been "accurate" when discussing his journalistic exploits and had never "fibbed" on air. ("Not that I know of," he said.) Yet O'Reilly's characterizations of his reporting during the Falklands war, El Salvador's civil war, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Los Angeles riots of 1992, and the 1977 re-investigation of the John F. Kennedy assassination have been repeatedly challenged, in several cases by former colleagues. Now a principal character in one of O'Reilly's more dramatic tales—in which the Fox commentator plays a heroic role—says this particular story is not accurate.
Their fight against the Export-Import Bank is part of a much bolder plan.
Daniel SchulmanMar. 3, 2015 3:11 PM
Koch Industries has officially entered the contentious fight over the fate of the Export-Import Bank, the independent government agency that guarantees loans and provides financing to companies doing business overseas and foreign businesses buying American products—and that has recently become a target for conservatives and libertarians who decry big-government crony capitalism.
On Tuesday, the industrial conglomerate run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to oppose the reauthorization of this obscure, 80-year-old institution, which otherwise will expire at the end of June. Signed by Philip Ellender, the president of Koch's government affairs arm, the letter signals the start of a Koch lobbying effort aimed at shuttering the New Deal-era agency. The Ex-Im Bank has been living on borrowed time since September, when Congress temporarily extended its charter. But now Koch Industries wants Congress to eradicate the agency for good.
He has said he saw civilians massacred in Buenos Aires. The report he filed at the time said nothing of the sort.
David Corn and Daniel SchulmanMar. 2, 2015 11:45 AM
Throughout the controversy set off by a recent Mother Jonesarticle about Bill O'Reilly's mischaracterizations of his wartime reporting experience, the Fox News host has angrily insisted that "everything" he has said about his journalistic track record has been accurate. But his accounts have been contradicted by O'Reilly's former colleagues and other eyewitnesses—and, it turns out, by O'Reilly's own reporting at the time. Mother Jones has obtained the CBS News report O'Reilly filed at the end of the Falklands war. It makes no reference to the dramatic and warlike action—soldiers "gunning down" Argentine civilians with "real bullets"—O'Reilly has claimed he witnessed.