Only the most naive among us can believe that the Koch Brothers are not pulling for former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld to secure the Libertarian nomination for President and Vice President at the party’s convention this weekend in Orlando, Florida.
As Salon’s Heather Digby Parton recently noted, the rise of Donald Trump means that the Kochs have (temporarily) lost control of the GOP:
Throughout this year’s bizarre primary campaign people have been wondering where in the world the Kochs and their massive electoral apparatus, Americans for Prosperity, were. It seemed ridiculous that these master strategists weren’t doing anything to stop [Trump]. It had been assumed early on that they’d back one of the usual suspects — Scott Walker or Marco Rubio were mentioned most often. But after an early feint toward Walker which had to be quickly walked back when the Wisconsin neophyte committed a final clumsy gaffe endorsing a ban on all legal immigration. From that point forward they continued to invite candidates to audition but never showed their hand…
Monday the world found out why when the National Review published a blockbuster scoop revealing that the Kochs have decided to withdraw from national politics. The 900 million dollars they’d planned to spend in this election cycle has been reduced to around 40 million on “educational” campaigns. They will continue their work at the state and local level (which is significant) but they are no longer much interested in electoral campaigns on the federal level…
So perhaps we can be grateful that the Kochs are true doctrinaire libertarians and are taking their billions and going home rather than [helping Trump become President]. Not that their efforts at the state and local levels are benign by any means. But at least they won’t be helping a crazy man get a hold of the nuclear codes. That makes them patriots by today’s Republican standards.
I doubt that the Kochs have decided to withdraw forever from national politics; however, the fossil-fuel fiends would prefer to have a president that they can control, one who will say “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” on command. It’s very likely that Charles and David are following a version of George Will’s logic: better to have a President Hillary Clinton constrained by a Republican House and Senate for four years, followed by a Koch-obedient Republican successor, rather than a populist President Trump who won’t take orders from anybody.
Considering the number of powerful interests on the right who would prefer to see Trump fail, I wouldn’t be surprised to see extensive elite-conservative efforts to promote a Johnson-Weld ticket–and for the Kochs to tacitly support such efforts. A Johnson-Weld ticket would be the most hyped third-party candidacy since the Ross Perot-James Stockdale effort in 1992–and such hype could actually secure a presence for the Libertarian ticket in this fall’s presidential and vice-presidential debates, as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has suggested.
If Johnson and Weld are indeed allowed to participate in the debates, look for both men to aim most of their rhetorical fire at Trump and his running mate, just as they will on the campaign trail. The interests supporting a Johnson-Weld ticket obviously want both men to split the Republican- and Republican-leaning independent vote, thus giving the election to Clinton and allowing those interests to reassert control over a post-Trump GOP. Weld’s presence in this effort is very important: the former Massachusetts governor is (like his protege and current Bay State governor Charlie Baker) nothing short of a genius in terms of his ability to appeal to the emotions of independents who want to believe there are still reasonable, rational, policy-based, center-right figures in American politics.
If Johnson and Weld secure the Libertarian nomination and attract enough support in polls to justify their inclusion in the fall presidential and vice-presidential debates, both men could deal a deathblow to the Trump campaign on November 8–and do a big favor for powerful interests (like the Koch boys) who wish to regain control over the Republican Party. These interests need Trump to lose in order for them to win–and if Johnson and Weld take enough Republican-inclined votes away from Trump, these interests will declare “Mission Accomplished.”
SECOND UPDATE: More from Alex Witt.