Presidential candidates are always eager to earn support from voters, but with nine months remaining until anyone casts a primary ballot, White House hopefuls have a slightly different focus at this stage in the process. As the race gets underway in earnest, the goal isn’t just to get public backing, but rather, to get support from a specific group of mega-donors.
And in the world of national Republican politics, the Koch brothers have few rivals.
Charles G. and David H. Koch, the influential and big-spending conservative donors, appear to have a favorite in the race for the Republican presidential nomination: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.On Monday, at a fund-raising event in Manhattan for the New York State Republican Party, David Koch told donors that he and his brother, who oversee one of the biggest private political organizations in the country, believed that Mr. Walker would be the Republican nominee.
According to the New York Times’ report, David Koch talked about the Wisconsin governor as if his primary success was simply assumed: “When the primaries are over and Scott Walker gets the nomination…” he joked.
The article noted two other attendees who said they heard Koch go further, describing the Republican Wisconsinite as the candidate who should get the GOP nomination.
It’s worth emphasizing that Koch, following the Times’ reporting, issued a written statement, describing Walker as “terrific,” but stressing, “I am not endorsing or supporting any candidate for president at this point in time.”
The statement doesn’t necessarily contradict the reporting. It’s entirely possible, for example, that the Kochs will remain officially neutral during the nominating process, while also privately acknowledging their preference for Walker while talking to allies behind closed doors.
And if that’s the case, it’s a major advantage for the far-right governor over his rivals. The Kochs not only carry an enormous wallet, they oversee a large political operation and enjoy broad credibility among conservative activists and donors.
A Koch endorsement, even if private, matters, especially as candidates search for ways to stand out in a crowded field.
That said, if the reporting is accurate and the Kochs are partial towards Walker, that doesn’t necessarily mean the governor will have the same kind of relationship with his billionaire benefactors as other recent candidates.
We’ve grown accustomed to thinking about Republicans and their billionaires as a kind of dynamic duo – we see the candidate, but we know he has a partner that’s largely responsible for bankrolling his candidacy. In 2012, it was Sheldon Adelson backing Newt Gingrich, while Foster Friess supported Rick Santorum. This year, Robert Mercer has partnered with Ted Cruz, while Norman Braman helps bankroll Marco Rubio.
Don’t expect a comparable relationship between the Kochs and Walker, at least not at this stage. If the powerful billionaire brothers intend to stay officially neutral, then Walker may look forward to the Kochs’ backing in a general election, but he’ll need others to finance his primary fight.