RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Another fault line has emerged in the internal battle for the soul of the GOP. This time, it's between President Trump and longtime Republican Party funders the Koch brothers. Yesterday, the president called the billionaire donors a, quote, "total joke in real Republican circles." The Koch brothers have been huge supporters of the Republican Party, but the two have big differences with President Trump. And we should note that Koch Industries, which the brothers control, is among NPR's financial supporters. To talk more about what this split could mean for the Republican Party, we're joined by Jane Mayer. She writes for The New Yorker and authored a book about the Koch brothers, called, "Dark Money." Jane, thanks so much for coming in.
JANE MAYER: Great to be with you.
MARTIN: So this Twitter lashing by President Trump towards the Kochs came after the Koch brothers and their organization held this meeting over the weekend. Charles Koch laid into the President Trump's policies. Didn't name him directly, but really railed against trade policies that the Trump administration has been pursuing. Tariffs, in particular. Where else do the Koch brothers disagree with this president?
MAYER: Well, not too many other places. And that's the thing about this story, is it's focusing on the differences between the two. Because basically, Trump has delivered quite a few things that the Kochs have long wanted. They did not back him in the 2016 campaign. He was the one Republican candidate who they didn't like, mostly because of issues such as this, and, also, they felt that he was - they felt Trump was not really someone they could control. I think he's not on their program, which is sort of libertarian, Republican conservatism. But just the same, even though they didn't back him, Trump in office has delivered many things that the Kochs were looking for - deregulation, tax cuts, particularly tax cuts on the upper end of the economic spectrum, people like themselves. And he's given them judges that they love.
MARTIN: But that's still - none of that is enough to prevent them from lashing out at him? Because they have.
MAYER: Well, you've got - in Trump and in Charles Koch, you've got two very strong-minded billionaires sort of who are quite used to getting their own way. And it's almost kind of a plutocratic pissing match, if you will, between two people who think they both should control American politics.
MARTIN: The president, as you noted, I mean, the Koch brothers didn't support him in 2016. He still won. So he clearly doesn't think he needs them.
MAYER: Well, and in a way, this fight works for both of them, really. Because what Trump has done is tried to prove - with his language, anyway - that he's independent. I don't need these rich guys. I've got better ideas. I'm more in touch with the American people. And the Kochs also want to look like they are independent of the Republican Party and they've got their own views, which are, really, actually libertarian and far to the right of the Republican Party.
MARTIN: So they're both sort of outside the mainstream of the GOP.
MAYER: They are. And it's a tug of war of which part is going to - which of these ideologies, if you could call Trump's an ideology, which is going to control the Republican Party? And you've got all these office-seekers running in this year's midterm elections looking for financial backing from the Kochs but worried, also, about any kind of deviation from Trump, who's popular with their voters. And so they're kind of caught in between these two poles.
MARTIN: This is already having an effect on midterm races, right?
MAYER: Well, I mean, in truth, if you really look at the Kochs' record, they don't support Democrats except for rare exceptions, mostly Democrats who are from districts where they have business centered.
MARTIN: But they're no longer supporting the Republican in this race in North Dakota against Heidi Heitkamp.
MAYER: What people seem to be missing is they're also not supporting the Democrat. They're just saying, I'm not going to put money behind the Republican. And that alone is enough to cause, you know, this kind of huge flurry here.
MARTIN: In the long run, you think this does damage to the Kochs' broader political influence in the country or within the party?
MAYER: It's an interesting question. I actually think it's possible that their donor network - which is, you know, something like 500 of the richest conservatives in the country who pour money into this joint project that they've got to take over politics - many of those are aligned with Trump, and they might lose that support.
MARTIN: Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, thanks so much. We appreciate it.
MAYER: Great to be with you.
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