What Will the Kochs Do For Scott Walker?

As noted in Monday’s Day’s End post, Nick Confessore had quite the scoop from a private Republican meeting in New York yesterday:

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.

“When the primaries are over and Scott Walker gets the nomination,” Mr. Koch told the crowd, the billionaire brothers would support him, according to a spokeswoman. The remark drew laughter and applause from the audience of fellow donors and Republican activists, who had come to hear Mr. Walker speak earlier at the event, held at the Union League Club.

Here’s where the story gets murky, though:

Two people who attended the event said they heard Mr. Koch go even further, indicating that Mr. Walker should be the Republican nominee. A spokeswoman disputed that wording, saying that Mr. Koch had pledged to remain officially neutral during the primary campaign.

But Mr. Koch’s remark left little doubt among attendees of where his heart is, and could effectively end one of the most closely watched contests in the “invisible primary,” a period where candidates crisscross the country seeking not the support of voters but the blessing of their party’s biggest donors and fund-raisers….

Mr. Koch’s remarks suggested that the political organizations they oversee — which include Americans for Prosperity, a grass-roots organization, and Freedom Partners, a donor trade group with an affiliated “super PAC” — would not intervene in the Republican primary process on behalf of a single candidate.

But according to the two attendees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe the remarks, Mr. Koch suggested that the Koch family might personally offer financial support to Mr. Walker.

This raises more questions than it answers. Are the Kochs signaling that members of their far-flung “donor network,” which together is reportedly planning on spending roughly $900 million in this cycle, should get behind Walker, even if AFP and other directly Koch-controlled groups keep their powder dry until the general election? And how about that “personal financial support” possibility? Keep in mind that Charles and David Koch are tied for sixth on Forbes‘ list of the world’s richest people; each reportedly has a net worth of $42.9 billion. By way of context, that means each of the Bros is worth quite a bit more than Sheldon Adelson, who comes in at a mere 18th on the Forbes list. Their “personal financial support” could be Godzilla-like, if they so wished.

But whatever it may not mean, it is a pretty clear vote of Kochian confidence in Walker, the man often described by Esquire‘s Charles Pierce as “the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin.” There had been some earlier speculation that the Bros might smile upon Mike Pence before the governor of Indiana imploded over a clumsy and unpopular “religious liberty” law, pretty much angering everybody in the process. And Marco Rubio supposedly wowed a Koch Donor Network get-together in Palm Springs back in January.

But looking at the big picture, Walker survived his first test with a boffo performance at the first cattle call of the cycle in Iowa, proving he’s not Tim Pawlenty and arising into the top tier in virtually every poll ever since. And now he’s been publicly blessed by the most powerful financial figures in Republican politics since Mark Hanna. Yes, his poll numbers back home are troubling, and he’s still more than a little rough around the edges on the campaign trail. It still looks like he and Jebbie are the early co-front-runners, particularly if the Kochs are extending what amounts to a bottomless line of credit to their little buddy from Wisconsin.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.