The Uneasy Relationship Between Trump and Wealthy Republicans

Despite pushing for a huge corporate tax cut and implementing attempts to roll back government regulations, wealthy Republicans don’t seem particularly happy with Donald Trump.

Top officials with the donor network affiliated with billionaire industrialist Charles Koch this weekend sought to distance the network from the Republican Party and President Trump, citing tariff and immigration policies and “divisive” rhetoric out of Washington.

At a gathering of hundreds of donors at the Broadmoor resort here, officials reiterated their plans to spend as much as $400 million on policy issues and political campaigns during the 2018 cycle. Earlier this year, they announced heavy spending aimed at helping Republicans to hold the Senate. But in a warning shot at Trump and the GOP, network co-chair Brian Hooks lamented “tremendous lack of leadership” in Trump’s Washington and the “deterioration of the core institutions of society.”

That comes from a room full of people who have traditionally donated big money to Republican candidates. They’re not ready to flip allegiances yet, but it’s clear that there are some things going on in their party that are causing concern. We can summarize those concerns with two words: Donald Trump.

I find it interesting to pair that information with Nate Cohn’s look at precinct-level data from the 2016 election.

The precinct-level data, which is far more granular than the county-level data available immediately after the election, complements a growing body of evidence that is forcing a re-evaluation of some of the initial views of the 2016 presidential election. It appears that Mrs. Clinton succeeded at winning over many rich and well-educated Republicans, perhaps by an even wider margin than pre-election polls implied, just as Mr. Trump made big gains in the poorest white communities compared with Mr. Romney. But there were more not-so-affluent white voters without a college degree in the battleground states, and Mr. Trump’s success with them was enough to give him the edge in the Electoral College.

That could go a long way toward explaining why Texas’s 32nd congressional district went from giving Romney a 15 percentage point win in 2012 to going for Clinton by 3 percentage points in 2016, as I wrote yesterday.

Here’s a major finding from Cohn that is important to keep in mind:

A more advanced statistical analysis shows that education was the dominant driver of the shift, which is to say that higher-income precincts moved toward Mrs. Clinton mainly because they’re generally better educated.

In other words, while rich white people trended away from Trump, it was higher levels of education that drove the change. That aligns with anecdotal patterns I witnessed among my conservative friends and family.

So where does that leave the Republican Party? It has become increasingly clear to me that the answer to that question doesn’t lie with families like the Kochs or the Mercers, but with the Murdochs. While their media empire doesn’t comprise the entire right-wing echo chamber, it is, at minimum, the center of it all, especially with Fox News and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. When/if Trump becomes a liability rather than an asset to people in the Murdoch family empire, they are the ones who have influence over what low-information white voters hear about politics. That gives them the power to alter the current dynamics.

Far be it from me to offer advice, but if I was a member of the well-educated wealthy white NeverTrump contingency of the GOP, I’d be talking to the Murdochs about the need to save the Republican Party from the likes of Donald Trump.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.