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Trump rise pushed Kochs from favor, but they’re still influential

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David Koch, the billionaire entrepreneur and Republican megadonor, died on Friday at the age of 79 after a months-long battle with prostate cancer.

David and his brother, Charles, are largely credited with fueling the rise of the modern conservative movement in the US. Together, the Kochs ran a colossal business empire while funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into the Republican political machine, and their name has been synonymous with wealth and influence in right-wing circles.

Over the last few years, though, their grip on power appeared to falter as Donald Trump catapulted to the top of the Republican ticket and reshaped the party’s platform.

The divide between Trump and the Kochs was stark from the very beginning. The billionaire brothers were longtime champions of free trade and an open-market system, while the New York real-estate mogul built his political brand on protectionism, imposing tariffs, and tamping down on immigration.

Read more: The Koch brothers used their massive fortune to power a conservative crusade that reshaped American politics

Trump v. Kochs

When Trump cannonballed into the 2016 presidential race, the Koch brothers said he was the only candidate out of the crowded Republican primary field who was unacceptable to them, in large part because he lacked a strong conservative record. According to The Atlantic, Charles Koch was also upset that GOP leaders, many of whom had benefited from the Koch brothers’ network, openly embraced Trump as he ascended to the top.

That’s not to say that Trump hasn’t taken steps since assuming office to endear himself to the conservative establishment. His massive tax cuts, deregulation, and nomination of staunch conservative judges have gone a long way to cement the support of top GOP donors.

Still, the Koch brothers shunned the president, announcing in January that their political network would not support Trump’s reelection bid and would instead focus on philanthropy and education initiatives.

Trump, meanwhile, has also made no secret of his disdain for the Kochs, calling them “overrated” and “a total joke in real Republican circles.”

His criticisms prompted some conservatives to rethink their support of the Koch political machine.

Read more: Trump’s roller coaster week of insults, denials, and bungled messaging paints a damaging portrait of a White House in chaos

Dan Eberhart, the CEO of Canary LLC and a Republican donor, told NPR’s “Weekend Edition” last August that it was “pretty alarming” the Koch network was “trying to pick a fight” ahead of the November midterms.

“We as Republicans need a united front going into the midterm elections,” Eberhart told NPR.

The concerns Eberhart and others voiced raised questions about whether the rise of Trumpism also led to a reduction in the Kochs’ massive influence within GOP politics. But those fears may be overblown.

The Kochs still wield massive influence

The Kochs built an influential network of donors aligned with their libertarian ideals of free-markets, lower taxes, and shrinking the size of the federal government. As their network poured money into recent elections, critics assailed it as the “Kochtopus.”

Since the 1970s, the Kochs personally donated at least $100 million to aid the rise of the Tea Party movement and bolster the Republican Party, according to The New York Times. The Tea Party wrested control of the House for Republicans in the 2010 midterms at the tail end of President Barack Obama’s first term.

The Koch brothers also funded initiatives that undercut climate science, and both “vehemently opposed the government taking any action on climate change that would hurt their fossil fuel profits,” author Jane Mayer wrote in her book “Dark Money.” The Kochs’ extraordinary wealth stems from the Kansas-based Koch Industrials, a privately held corporation worth an estimated $110 billion with subsidiaries in sectors like manufacturing and energy.

The Koch brothers founded Americans for Prosperity in 2004, now one of the most influential conservative political organizations. It counts more than 700 wealthy donors in its ranks and has chapters in 36 states. Its influence is only rivaled by the Republican Party.

The Kochs backed the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of conservative state lawmakers and business lobbyists. They’ve drafted “model legislation” that lawmakers have introduced to cut taxes, weaken environmental protections, and promote other conservative ideas. More than 600 of them have become law across the US.

As leaders in the fossil fuel industry, the Koch brothers staunchly opposed efforts to fight climate change and have downplayed its risks. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United in 2011, the Kochs unleashed a wave of political advertising to elect Republicans who pledged not to pass new environmental regulations.

That said, the Kochs have suffered some significant losses since Trump took over the Republican Party.

Ahead of the 2018 midterms, they vowed to spend up to $400 million to support conservative candidates. But they lost many of their races and Democrats recaptured the House, exposing limits to their influence.

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