USAmerica Letter

Donor intervention may play key role in deciding US Republican presidential candidate

Right-wing billionaire industrialist Charles Koch prepares to weigh in on primary elections

Money is the grease on the wheel on which US elections turn.

Almost from the time they are elected, politicians are concerned about fundraising for the next time they have to go to the polls.

Fundraising pays for staff and particularly for advertising, without which they will face a hard job of staying in office.

This is why an early morning development last Sunday could be significantly important for the 2024 presidential contest.


At present, Donald Trump is the only declared candidate seeking the Republican Party nomination.

He is unlikely to be alone for long. Next week his former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley is expected to throw her hat into the ring.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis may not be too far behind. Then there is former vice-president Mike Pence and maybe even former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

Last Sunday news broke that the donor network created by the right-wing billionaire industrialists Charles Koch and his late brother David Koch is preparing to weigh in on the presidential primary elections.

Crucially, it suggested it was looking at putting its considerable financial resources behind someone other than Trump.

A key part of the network of donors, the Americans for Prosperity (AFP) group said “the best thing for the country would be to have a president in 2025 who represents a new chapter”.

AFP and its associated groups did not get involved in presidential primary elections in recent years. The development at the weekend may mean there are plans afoot within conservative circles to stop Trump securing the Republican Party nomination.

The right wing donor network has deep pockets – an affiliated Political Action Committee spent nearly $70 million in the 2022 midterm elections. It also has considerable organisational strength and boasts of having millions of grassroots activists.

Trump has been at odds with Koch and his allies for some time, particularly over economic and trade policy. In 2018 Trump dismissed the Koch brothers as “globalists” and “a total joke in real Republican circles”.

A line in the AFP memo on Sunday that it was prepared “to support a candidate in the Republican presidential primary who can lead our country forward, and who can win” is telling.

It suggests the network will support a single candidate. A big republican field could be beneficial for Trump given he is expected to have a rock-solid support base of about 25 per cent. However, the financial muscle of the Koch donor network could whittle down the number of candidates.

The assertion that it wants to back someone who can win is also interesting. As there are some senior republicans who openly argue that Trump has shown he cannot win.

Last month the former republican speaker of the House Paul Ryan – a key figure in the old pre-2016 party establishment – was scathing about Trump.

He told CNN the former president was “a proven loser” who, essentially, was dragging the party down, adding: “He’s fading fast.”

“He cost us the House in ‘18, he cost us the White House in ‘20, he cost us the Senate again and again.”

But if the mega-rich conservative donors are to pick a candidate in the forthcoming fight, who will it be? Would it be Haley, who is also a former governor of South Carolina? Would be it DeSantis, or Pence?

Trump is obviously concerned about Dr Santis getting into the contest. He has made a number of barbed comments about him on his social media platform. DeSantis has publicly spoken about individuals trying to “smear” other Republicans.

Trump backed De Santis when he was seeking to become governor in 2018, something the former president does not want to let him forget.

“So then when I hear he might run, I consider that very disloyal. But it’s not about loyalty – but to me it is, it’s always about loyalty – but for a lot of people it’s not about loyalty”, Trump said.

But DeSantis has come a long way politically since 2018 and now has a huge brand in his own right among conservatives.

Haley is expected to formally declare she will be a candidate as early as this coming week.

She had previously publicly promised that she would not throw her hat into the ring if Trump was running again.

But that was then and this is now.

“She is an overly ambitious person”, Trump said of Haley earlier this month.

“She just could not stay in her seat”.

It is only three months since the last US election. But the next one is about to heat up.