Koch money bets on Nikki Haley — but the Mercers may be back on Team Trump

The Koch network finally endorses Nikki Haley for the GOP nomination as Robert and Rebekah Mercer return to Trump

By Heather Digby Parton


Published November 29, 2023 9:43AM (EST)

The Koch Brothers, Nikki Haley, Donald Trump and the Mercer Family (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
The Koch Brothers, Nikki Haley, Donald Trump and the Mercer Family (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

As reported this week, the Koch donor network, specifically its Americans for Prosperity Action fund, has finally decided who to back for the Republican presidential nomination: former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. This was announced as if it was a very significant moment signaling the final blow to the campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom Haley has nearly overtaken in some polls in the early voting states.

There's only one problem, however. Both Haley and DeSantis are trailing the actual GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump, by 50 points nationally, which means all this hoopla over the Koch endorsement is about who is going to finish a very distant second place. This has to be the saddest example of horserace journalism in history. 

The Koch network does have a lot of money, of course, and according to AFP, they've been running negative ads against Trump since last winter when it was announced that the influential right-wing organization was going to participate in the 2024 election, specifically against Trump. But it took the group this long to decide to back a specific candidate, perhaps because the one considered most likely to beat Trump, Ron DeSantis, isn't their cup of tea. 

The Kochs come out of the libertarian wing of the party which favors immigration and international trade and doesn't care for the idea of using state power to strong-arm business. DeSantis is MAGA, the successor to the Tea Party, which the Kochs bankrolled and astroturfed to victories during the Obama years. He hates everything they stand for (except tax cuts, of course.) 

Haley, on the other hand, is a Koch brother's dream. I'm sure she had them at "going to go after Social Security and Medicare." 

We need your help to stay independent

And here everyone thought that the cacophonous eruption of denials at the State of the Union address last year when President Biden made clear that that was exactly what they planned meant that the GOP had dropped its longstanding determination to end those programs. 

As the New York Times' Paul Krugman pointed out in his column on Tuesday, Haley's a clever shape-shifting politician on the stump, but when you look at her policies, she's a standard-issue corporate right-winger. That, of course, means she doesn't stand a chance of winning the nomination even if she stands the best chance, among all GOP contenders, of beating Joe Biden. To paraphrase a famous Republican defense secretary, you go to war with the Republican base you have, not the one you might wish to have. The GOP base today has no interest in standard-issue establishment Republicans. Her "lane" is the same lane that they all have: hoping for something to happen to Donald Trump. 

The Kochs have a dubious record of choosing presidential candidates anyway. Recall that they had groomed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for years to be their own personal president and were ready to formally endorse him when he suddenly declared he wanted to curtail legal immigration and then flamed out completely, leaving the race before it even started. Their network stayed on the sidelines from that point on. You can be sure that when the primary campaign is over and Trump is the nominee, they won't be spending any of their loot to defeat him in the general election. Like so many others of their ilk, they'll pout and sulk a bit and then slink off to count all the money he saved them with his massive tax cuts for the wealthy. 

But with all the talk about the Koch Network stepping into the arena on behalf ofHaley, there's been hardly a mention of another big bucks right-wing family coming off of the sidelines for Donald Trump. CNBC reported last week that according to "people familiar with the matter," Bob Mercer and his daughter Rebekah are considering getting back in the game after laying out since 2018. And they've got $88 million sitting in their private nonprofit, the Mercer Family Foundation, just waiting to be spent.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Just as the Koch network is more ideologically aligned with Haley, the Mercers came out heavily for Trump in 2016, way ahead of most of the rich guys, pumping tens of millions into the campaign. According to Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman, they were originally motivated by their burning hatred of Hillary Clinton, whom they believe is a murderer. But once they got involved, their influence on the Trump campaign was huge. 

It's no surprise that the Mercers have decided it's time to come out of the shadows and once again support Trump. His talk of mass deportations, detention camps and expelling the "vermin" has to be music to their ears.

Former Trump adviser and podcaster Steve Bannon said that the Mercers "laid the groundwork for the Trump Revolution," and he was correct. They bankrolled Bannon's publication Breitbart News, which served as Trump's online propaganda arm during the 2016 campaign, and spent millions on Cambridge Analytica, Robert Mercer's data firm, which was reportedly involved in all sorts of chicanery in that election. They were personally responsible for putting Bannon and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway in the campaign. 

But their high-profile involvement also brought the Mercers under intense scrutiny, which they apparently didn't like. They are eccentric people and soured on Trump for vague reasons, stepping out of the public eye after 2017. But they never stopped donating millions to their pet causes and other far-right politicians. And as Salon's Igor Derysh pointed out in this tour de force examination of the Mercers' tentacles in all aspects of right-wing politics, their influence and money were essential to the forces that brought the MAGA movement to its peak moment on Jan. 6. 

And the Mercers have continued to help fund organizations and individuals that helped perpetuate the Big Lie. Derysh quotes Mobashra Tazamal, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University's Bridge Initiative, which issued a report on the Mercers involvement back in 2021:

"By strategically funneling millions into known hate groups, platforms amplifying racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia, and politicians who pushed forth outright lies of a stolen election, Rebekah Mercer played a role in inciting the violence by providing material support," she said. "The billionaire family has used their extraordinary wealth to bankroll the rise of violent white nationalism in this country."

This is what they believe in. This is what they care about. It's no surprise that they have now decided it may be time to come out of the shadows and once again support Donald Trump. All his recent talk of mass deportations, detention camps, "poisoning the blood of our country" and expelling the "vermin" has to be music to their ears. They figure they may finally be about to get their money's worth.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Afp Commentary Donald Trump Elections 2024 Endorsements Gop Civil War Gop Primary The Mercers