The debate season is starting, and there is no doubt that it is entertaining. The media's obsession with Trump will not be diminished by last night's debate, as both the moderators and the other candidates in both the prime time and happy hour debates circled around the persona of Trump as the planets circle the sun. The run-up to the debate over the last week has been all-Trump-all-the-time, and there's no reason to think that will stop anytime soon.
Ultimately, though, I firmly believe that Donald Trump will not be the Republican presidential nominee- and I don't think it will be because he blows himself up with an outrageous comment, as he has already proved that making outrageous comments only adds to his appeal. What will finally defeat Trump is not likely to be the Donald himself, but the combined might of the people who control the Republican party: mainly the Koch brothers and those, both politicians and other big money players, who trail in their wake. As Congressman Tim Ryan said last night, "What's happening this evening is an audition for the billionaires, the Koch brothers." What they were auditioning for was to be the anti-Trump candidate the Kochs will muscle through the nomination process.
Last year, in tapes of the secret meetings the Kochs hosted in Orange County that my colleague Lauren Windsor obtained, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said to the Koch brothers, "I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David, for the important work you're doing. I don't know where we'd be without you."
I noted at the time how true McConnell's words were:
In fact, McConnell does know where his Republican Party would be without the Kochs and their network of millionaire and billionaire donors -- nowhere. Saddled with a deeply unpopular economic and social agenda, locked down by a primary electorate that won't allow even occasional forays into moderate policy or rhetoric, crippled by demographic trends that are making their voting base smaller and smaller, Republicans have lost the popular vote six of the last seven presidential elections. Without the Koch money, there would have been no tea party movement or 2010 tidal wave. Without the Koch money, the 2012 presidential race wouldn't have even been competitive... The only thing keeping the Republicans in the game is the Kochs and their big-money friends dumping hundreds of millions of dollars ($290 million this cycle according to some accounts, $500 million according to at least one source) into the pot, and McConnell and other party leaders know it.
This cycle, the Kochs and their billionaire friends have pledged $900 million to help the Republicans win -- and that doesn't include the hundreds of millions they are investing in think tanks, academic institutions, PR, and other ways of influencing the broader political narrative. Closely allied to McConnell and most of the other party leaders, they dominate the party's thinking on climate change, taxes, the federal budget, regulatory policy, education policy, and a host of smaller behind-the-scenes issues.
The Kochs run the Republican show, and they will not let someone outside of their orbit like Trump get his hands on the prize. The Kochs are playing the long game -- they have been happy to accept short-term losses to keep their hands on the controls of the party. So if Trump decides to blow up the Republican chances this year by running as an independent, they will take that hit.
It is important to understand why this is such a serious development for the future of our democracy. These are bad people, not because they are conservative, not because they throw around a lot of money, and not only because they blatantly act in their own self-interest. I have seen all of that before in spades. I've been in politics a long time, been involved in presidential campaigns since 1984, worked in a White House and on two transition teams, and believe me I have seen, and faced off against, all kinds of naked self-interest and big money, for decades. But no one in my lifetime, or in American politics over the last hundred years, has had as much power as the Kochs, and no one has abused that power so egregiously.
I will come back to the big picture in a minute, but first let me tell you about one of the Kochs' closest associates, a man named Kevin Gentry. Gentry has two big titles in Koch world, simultaneously serving as vice president of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and as vice president of special projects at Koch Industries. Gentry served as the emcee of the secret Koch conference held last year, speaking more on the tapes Lauren was given than any other person at the conference.
And Kevin Gentry is a thug. I don't say this lightly, as I respect most of my political opponents and believe in treating them with dignity. But the VP of Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation roughly grabbed two young women at their conference this last weekend, twisting the arm of one of them so much that paramedics were called. Read Lauren Windsor's harrowing account of the incident here.
This wasn't some rogue security guard, some junior level staffer that lost it and went out of control. This was one of the Kochs' very top people, and I think you can be guaranteed he will not be fired for this incident. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that people with such raw power and Ayn Rand-like political views feel like they can commit assault and battery without blinking an eye. In Gentry's case, he actually laughed about it.
Meanwhile, their political agenda as spelled out very clearly at their secret meetings last year, is another form of assault and battery. I wrote at the time:
In a series of big ideological speeches given the first day of their retreat (which Mitch McConnell called "very inspiring"), Charles Koch, his "grand strategist" Richard Fink, and the Charles Koch Institute's VP for Research and Policy, Will Ruger, laid out a vision of government and society that would be pretty terrifying to anyone this side of Ayn Rand: The minimum wage (which leads to Nazi-ism) should be abolished; homeless people should be told to "get off [their] ass and work hard like we did"; and government should get out of the business of anything except the police force, military, and judicial system -- no Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, student loans, clean air or water rules, national or state parks, food safety, Wall Street oversight.
This would be assault and battery on everyone in America outside of the top 1%, so you can be sure that when Kevin Gentry manhandles two women, the Kochs won't blink an eye. These are the people with an iron grip on the throat of the Republican Party, and I guarantee you they will not let the party or its political leadership out of their control. Donald Trump is a fun, fascinating, thoroughly entertaining sideshow, but the real action was behind the scenes in Orange County last weekend.