It looks like Donald Trump has begun to court Charles Koch, the conservative billionaire who, with his brother David, sunk $122 million into elections in 2012 and planned to spend nearly $1 billion in 2016. That is, before Trump came along and secured the GOP nomination.
Charles Koch revealed in an interview with USA Today that Trump’s team requested a meeting with his representatives, to which the Koch camp agreed. The date of the meeting has yet to be set, but a Trump campaign spokeswoman said in a statement that the meeting would occur “in the next week or so.”
During the primary season, it was no secret that the Koch brothers, two of the most influential figures in American conservative politics, didn’t want Trump to become the Republican nominee. Though they didn’t throw their support behind any candidate during the primary season, when it became apparent that Trump would become the nominee, the brothers decided to focus their efforts in other political contests, ignoring what they called the “cult of the presidency.”
The brothers’ focus on free market economics doesn’t square with Trump’s anti–free trade policies, and Charles Koch is also displeased with Trump’s recent attacks against federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel, which the industrialist said is “either racist or it’s stereotyping” in USA Today. Trump, meanwhile, has described Republican politicians who rely on the Kochs’ backing to win elections as “puppets.”
Koch told USA Today that his team is “happy to talk to anybody,” and Trump’s team said the candidate hopes to “find common ground” with Koch, but Koch admitted the mogul is unlikely to succeed in convincing him. Asked by the paper if he thought Trump was fit to be president, Koch said, “I don’t know the answer to that.”
Koch is far from the only conservative—or the only Republican—to question Trump’s fitness to hold the country’s highest office. On Thursday, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said Trump’s “antics are distracting” but added that he hopes Trump can “run a campaign we can all be proud of.” GOP Senator Mark Kirk, who had publicly backed Trump, on Tuesday rescinded that endorsement, citing his military experience as reasoning and saying he could not support him after Trump’s comments about Curiel.OtherGOPleaders have also called on Trump to tone down his rhetoric and scale back his attacks.
The news of the Trump team’s sit-down with the Koch camp comes as Hillary Clinton is set to assume her party’s mantle, the campaign shifts to general election mode and Trump’s ability to self-finance his campaign becomes increasingly difficult. One of the cornerstones of the billionaire’s popularity has been the perception that his personal wealth means that, unlike other politicians, he “can’t be bought.”
But the upcoming meeting could potentially damage that perception. Trump has said he expects he will need $1 billion to successfully challenge Clinton—and his lack of super PAC support or the backing of the Republican donor class has made that number all but unachievable. The meeting will also no doubt provide ammunition for Clinton, who is currently looking for ways to excite disenchanted Bernie Sanders supporters. On the left, the Koch brothers are frequently depicted as conservative bogeymen, attempting to use their wealth to unfairly influence the outcome of elections.