Some influential conservative donors are trying to broker a détente between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist whose political network is poised to spend $750 million on 2016 political contests.
Dallas investor Doug Deason, whose family has given millions to Republican candidates over the years, wants the two men to meet. “I won't urge him to donate, just meet with him,” Deason said Monday at the semi-annual retreat of Freedom Partners, Koch's political group. “I think everybody would like him to.”
Deason's comments came after Trump's campaign late last week tried to organize a meeting with Koch and was rebuffed. Trump tweeted, “I turned down a meeting with Charles and David Koch. Much better for them to meet with the puppets of politics, they will do much better!” Koch then this weekend laid out to his network of donors why he wouldn’t support Trump, pointing to the nominee’s stance on trade, proposal to temporarily halt all Muslims entering the U.S., and vow to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
About twelve reporters were given limited access to the Freedom Partners event, on condition they didn't approach donors or report on their presence without permission.
Like Deason, several attendees held out hope that someone in their ranks would manage to bridge the gap between Trump and Koch. Some looked to Phil Anschutz, the owner of the luxury Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs, where the network held the three-day event. Anschutz is also the owner of the local Gazette newspaper, which wrote a favorable editorial about Trump after a rare sit-down with editors on Friday.
Beyond not supporting Trump, some had read recent comments by Koch to suggest he would consider supporting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a perception Koch put to rest.
“I want to correct the record the media keeps stimulating that I am voting for Hillary Clinton. That is blood libel,” he told an audience of about 400 donors. “At this point, I can't support either candidate, but I'm certainly not going to support Hillary.”
Koch has engaged in only one presidential race, Mitt Romney's 2012 run. After that loss, Deason said, Koch may never wade into presidential politics again. The network is more effective at the state level, he said.
That's a point that most attendees agree on. The Koch network plans to spend about $750 million this year to dispatch about 1,600 field staff and 2.8 million volunteers to 38 states to advocate for conservative principles. They will also help conservative candidates for the U.S. Senate in six states—Nevada, Indiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida—as well as a few House races.
While the Koch network won't donate to Trump, they also won't attack him, Freedom Partners Chairman Mark Holden told reporters at the three-day retreat.
There are ways that the network still may benefit Trump. The Koch data and analytics team, known as i360, is sharing voter data with the Republican National Committee, including information about where people stand on issues and whom they intend to vote for, i360's president, Michael Palmer, said. The RNC can then share those valuable details with Trump's campaign.
The Koch network also plans to tie Democratic candidates for the Senate and House to Clinton, a move that could also benefit Trump.
Several attendees agreed that Koch shouldn't support Trump.
“Donald Trump doesn't respect the principles of this organization,” said Ann Justin, an artist from Bozeman, Montana, who was at the gathering.
Koch carries a set of guiding business principles, including integrity, humility, and respect, donors said. For Koch to support a candidate, his team needs to know he or she lives by a majority of those. He also sizes up whether the candidate's policies will improve people's lives and whether they have a chance to win.
For Henry Gordon, a Colorado oil and gas investor, Trump's decision to taunt the parents of a soldier killed in Iraq was reason enough to abstain from voting for a presidential candidate. “He's going in directions he doesn't need to go in,” Gordon said.
Judy Klipsch, a former owner of the Klipsch audio technology company, said, “I'm confounded right now. As a female, I have not made up my mind. But I'm going to listen very carefully to see if Donald Trump listens.”
—With assistance from Zachary Mider in New York.