Conservative Groups Redirect Support From Trump To Endangered Republicans

Aug 18, 2016
Originally published on August 18, 2016 10:50 pm
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Those beleaguered Republican senators are getting help from conservative super PACs and nonprofit groups, notably from the network of organizations funded by the billionaire Koch brothers and their allies. David and Charles Koch have decided the network will concentrate on the Senate races and that it won't spend any money to help Donald Trump. Here's NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Just for contrast, check out this ad from 2012.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's not the hope and change I thought I was going to get. I don't feel that I help my grandchildren by voting for President Obama, and I regret that.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Americans for Prosperity is responsible for the...

OVERBY: Four years ago, the Koch network was the biggest block of outside support for Mitt Romney. Koch-funded group spent nearly $78 million on pro-Romney TV ads. That was 92 percent of all outside group TV for Romney. But this time around, the network isn't doing anything to help Trump.

JAMES DAVIS: Most, if not all, of the ads have been centered so far around cronyism and corporate welfare and/or spending and government overregulation.

OVERBY: Issues tying back to the Senate candidates themselves, said James Davis. He's spokesman for Freedom Partners Action Fund, which is doing most of the Koch network TV this cycle.

DAVIS: What we see is that there's not a national issue per se that is mobilizing voters or that voters are encouraged or discouraged about it.

OVERBY: And so no need to even mention Trump. Take Pennsylvania. Her first-term Republican Senator Pat Toomey is now trailing Democrat Katie McGinty. Koch groups so far have spent at least $3-and-a-half million in Pennsylvania, half of all the outside spending for Toomey. This Freedom Partners Action Fund ad uses the anti-cronyism message that Davis was talking about.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: And land big contracts. What did she get from them - board positions, a six-figure salary.

OVERBY: Yesterday McGuinty was asking if Toomey would trust Trump with the nation's nuclear codes. That's how the Democrats are playing it. Make sure to keep Trump in the debate. At the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said the Koch strategy won't work.

SADIE WEINER: The Republican senators who they're advertising for and spending tens of millions of dollars for are pretty much unanimously standing with Donald Trump.

OVERBY: Most of those endorsements have been pretty tepid, but still warmer than the relationship between Trump and the Koch brothers. He tweeted that other primary candidates might be Koch puppets - his word. And Charles Koch on ABC in April could hardly have sounded more appalled by Trump's idea to make Muslims register with the government.

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CHARLES KOCH: That's reminiscent of Nazi Germany. I mean that's monstrous.

OVERBY: But the Koch network isn't going with Hillary Clinton either. Tim Phillips is president of Americans for Prosperity, the network's main organization for ground operations.

TIM PHILLIPS: We do not like Mrs. Clinton's record. Clearly on the issues that matter to us, she's just a disaster.

OVERBY: Phillips said Americans for Prosperity has about 700 paid staff in 35 states. Two other Koch groups are also active - The Libre Initiative, focusing on Latino voters, and Concerned Veterans for America.

PHILLIPS: We think we can make the biggest difference by focusing very specifically on the issue differences between these Senate candidates. The presidential race will absolutely buffet and have an impact on these Senate races. We're just not going to get involved in it.

OVERBY: Instead the Koch network is building a wall, hoping to save the Republican Senate from the Republican nominee. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.