COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Anger and disappointment with the Republican Party is palpable at Colorado Springs’ historic Broadmoor Hotel, where Charles Koch is hosting over 500 donors for the largest-yet summer meeting of his Seminar Network.
“People are taking us for granted,” Charles Koch Foundation President Brian Hooks told a room of high-dollar attendees. “This network has got to lead.”
Citing tariffs on trade, immigration policy and a $1.3 trillion budget, Hooks listed libertarian disappointments with the Republican Congress and Trump administration.
“Many of you watched in disgust,” Hooks said, as a record-breaking budget was passed “by a Republican government … We supported some of these guys!”
In May, the Koch-run Americans for Prosperity (AFP) activist group targeted Republican Rep. Lou Barletta, a close Trump ally who is running for Senate in Pennsylvania and voted for the spending bill. He was among 10 Republicans and seven Democrats targeted by AFP radio, television and internet ads for their vote on the budget.
In June, AFP ran ads thanking Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp for co-sponsoring legislation to roll back Dodd-Frank regulations championed by the left. Heitkamp, who voted for the $1.3 trillion budget deal and against tax reform, is in a very close race against a Republican challenger in a state Trump won by more than 36 points.
“The fact that we’re willing to do this during an election shows we’re dead serious,” AFP CEO Emily Seidel told attendees. “This network will no longer follow anyone’s lead or be taken for granted.”
While the libertarian network has a long history of working in non-partisan areas, including education, criminal recidivism and poverty, it is made up of largely center-right, conservative and Republican donors.
“I know this is uncomfortable,” Seidel told attendees.
The move represents a return to emphasising Charles Koch’s libertarian beliefs and a retreat from the partisan politics his network had emphasized since the tea party in 2010 and later Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run.
In 2015, Charles Koch and his brother, David, announced a planned $889 million in campaign spending– a figure that would put their network on par with the Republican and Democratic parties. As now-President Donald Trump rose in polls, however, these plans were scuttled.
Center-right politicians and operatives who’d expected the spending to go through, including a number of Koch network alumni, were left disappointed in the shift in focus from the GOP after years of efforts, with some believing the network should have spent against Trump and others believing they should have spent more on Republican election fights. In the lead up to the conference, James Davis, who heads the Koch network’s communications arm, In Pursuit Of, emailed reporters Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek’s essay “Why I Am Not A Conservative” and an explainer on the classical liberalism, a political and economic policy stressing liberty and individualism.
“In the past, this network has done a lot,” Hooks said. “Perhaps more than anyone else to slow the decline of our country … But we’re not here to slow the decline, we’re here to change the trajectory of this country … The need for a new and different approach couldn’t be any clearer.”
Seidel also lamented the Republican failure to repeal Obamacare, apologizing to donors: “We didn’t do it on health care, we didn’t lead. That won’t happen again.”
There were bright spots on the national agenda, however, with Seidel citing tax reform, deregulation and access to experimental medicine, and Concerned Veterans of America Deputy Director Mark Lucas lauding Department of Veterans Affairs accountability reform.
“So we work with the Trump administration when they are doing things that we think are in harmony with [our ideals] … and we oppose them when we don’t,” Charles Koch told reporters.
Editor’s Note: Christopher Bedford was a fellow at the Charles Koch Institute in 2010.