The Billionaire Brothers Take on the US

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Gretchen Ertl/The New York Times/Redux
David Koch at the opening of a cancer research institute that bears his name at MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 2011

On election night 2012, Charles and David Koch were confident of a Republican victory, as so many Mitt Romney partisans were. Pre-election polls, which showed Barack Obama narrowly but consistently ahead in a number of key states, simply had to be incorrect, infested with liberal bias; the same was surely true, they said, of Nate Silver, the statistics guru who foresaw a comfortable Electoral College win for Obama and ended up predicting every state correctly.

Republicans and conservatives tend toward a kind of certitude that they, far more than Democrats and liberals, embody and represent real American values. So they spent October 2012 persuading themselves that there was simply no chance that Americans would reelect this professional leftist who (it was so obvious to them) was, by both incompetence and intention, bringing the country to ruin. Pundits of the right attempted to conjure this specter into reality by the act of repeatedly saying it, an effort that hit bottom when George Will advised viewers of ABC’s This Week the Sunday before the election that the thoroughness of America’s rejection of Obama would be seen in the results from Minnesota, where he predicted a Romney victory. Obama won the state by eight points, an outcome so utterly foreordained that neither man even bothered to campaign there.

The brothers Koch (pronounced “coke”), who, we can imagine, would have watched Fox News and heeded writers like Will, had poured an estimated $407 million of their own and others’ money into defeating Obama. They did so through a network of groups with names like Freedom Partners, the Center to Protect Patient Rights, and the well-known Americans for Prosperity, collectively described by The Washington Post’s Matea Gold as “a far-reaching operation of unrivaled complexity, built around a maze of groups that cloaks its donors.”1 They spent most heavily in Ohio, where at least the margin was close (1.9 percent), and Pennsylvania, where it wasn’t very (5.2 percent).

David Koch was at home that night in New York, “monitoring the election results with disbelief,” according to Daniel Schulman in Sons of Wichita. Charles was similarly disconsolate, and mystified as well. “He wasn’t blaming people,” said a friend quoted by Schulman.

It’s just that they perceived that there would be more people that would want a freer society and less governmental intervention and less people dependent upon the federal government. He thought…that people would see it, and they didn’t.

From their perspective, the Kochs had endured much over the preceding couple of years, since publicly announcing their intention to spend whatever it took to rid America of the socialist evil. They’d been subject to vigorous public denunciation, heightened scrutiny of their business empire and private lives, and, according to Schulman, death threats (although he doesn’t tell us …

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  1. 1

    See Matea Gold, “Koch-Backed Political Coalition, Designed to Shield Donors, Raised $400 Million in 2012,” The Washington Post, January 5, 2014.