The incredible cowardice of the 1 percent: Why wealthy GOP donors are so afraid of Donald Trump

Why aren't GOP donors like the Kochs trying to destroy Trump? The reason is even more pathetic than you thought

Published December 3, 2015 6:42PM (EST)

Donald Trump (AP/Dennis Van Tine)
Donald Trump (AP/Dennis Van Tine)

Charles Koch, David Koch, Sheldon Adelson, Karl Rove; the Club for Growth, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and American Crossroads. These are some of the most influential persons and organizations not only in the world of American politics but in the world, full stop.

They have billions of dollars at their disposal, a sprawling network of dedicated activists, and voluminous experience running winning campaigns. They have founded empires, elected presidents, and fomented political revolutions. They are not only at home in the halls of power; they have built some of those very halls themselves.

By nearly any measure, they are titans. And according to recent reports from the Washington Post and the New York Times, they are all, to a man (and it’s all men), afraid of the same thing. They are afraid of being made fun of by Donald Trump. And, no, this is not a joke. Here’s how the Times puts it:

Many leading Republican officials, strategists and donors now say they fear that Mr. Trump’s nomination would lead to an electoral wipeout, a sweeping defeat that could undo some of the gains Republicans have made in recent congressional, state and local elections … Some of the highest-ranking Republicans in Congress and some of the party’s wealthiest and most generous donors have balked at trying to take down Mr. Trump because they fear a public feud with the insult-spewing media figure.

Now, according to the Times, cowardice is not the only reason why these folks have held their fire. Some of them have also said that any concerted attack on “the Donald” would “backfire.” This is, after all, “a time of soaring anger toward political insiders.” If the establishment launched an all-out blitz, they would, according to Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, “play into his hands and only validate him.”

It’s not an unreasonable concern. Neither is the worry that Trump might run as an independent. Still, there are rationalizations. (Funny ones, too, considering Republicans’ belief in a more “muscular” foreign policy.) And as the Times and WaPo reports, taken together, make clear, it’s not the main reason these big shots are holding their tongues. The main reason is fear.

For example, here’s how the Times describes the Koch brothers’ decision to stay mum thus far — despite the fact that Trump’s kind of right-wing populism, with its communitarian and pseudo-fascist impulses, represents almost everything the Kochs claim to hate:

Two of the most potent financial networks in Republican politics, that of the hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer and another led by the industrialists Charles G. and David H. Koch, have each had preliminary conversations about beginning an anti-Trump campaign, according to strategists involved. But Mr. Trump has already mocked Mr. Singer and the Kochs, and officials linked to them said they were reluctant to incur more ferocious counterattacks.

“You have to deal with Trump berating you every day of the week,” explained a strategist briefed on the thinking of both groups.

“Berating” is a good word, but keep in mind what this actually means. It doesn’t mean that Trump will storm into the Kochs’ living room and interrupt what I can only assume is their nightly ritual of watching one of the “Atlas Shrugged” movies. It doesn’t mean that he’ll be able to actually disturb or yell at them. They’ve got plenty of security, for one thing; and Trump’s rather busy right now, for another.

What it means, then, is that the Koch brothers don’t want to go through the evidently traumatic experience of seeing headlines featuring Donald Trump, their name, and some combination of mean words. You’d think they’d be used to it by now, given the years they’ve spent running a political network some consider equivalent to a third party. But I guess there are some wounds that even $100 billion worth of medical attention cannot heal.

In any event, I’m not sure if these revelations should make those who want to see Trump defeated feel better or worse. On the bright side, these reports suggest that Trump hasn’t, as some feared, survived an attack from the establishment. He’s avoided one instead. Up to this point, that’s been a distinction without a difference. But if the assault ultimately does come, it may turn out that Trump’s aura of invincibility is paper-thin.

On the not-so-bright side, though, these reports suggest that Republican members of the 1 percent aren’t as bothered by the prospect of a Trump nomination as many have assumed and hoped. If being made fun of by a man widely seen as a demagogue, bully and clown is too much for these people to bear, what will compel them to act? Maybe nothing. Maybe life in their bubble is simply too good to make the trouble worth it.

If they’re going to take Trump on, however, they better start doing it soon. To put it gently, life on the campaign trail does not appear to be transforming Donald Trump into a nicer person. (Quite the opposite, really.) And whether or not these donors like it, the time to stop Trump 2016 is swiftly running out.

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By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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