No Koch Endorsement For Scott Walker, But They’re Giving Jeb An ‘Audition’

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Apr 21, 2015 8:00 PM
No Koch Endorsement For Scott Walker, But They’re Giving Jeb An ‘Audition’

Scott Walker has got the backing of the Kochtopus! Yet, that didn’t happen. The Koch brothers have plenty of options with the 2016 Republican field, and they haven’t officially allied with the Walker campaign–though David Koch described the potential 2016 candidate as “terrific.” This comes after the Koch brothers are mulling whether to use their vast empire to tilt the scales in the upcoming GOP primaries, according to Politico. And Jeb Bush will be one of the people that will be given the chance to curry favor with them:

In another surprise, a top Koch aide revealed to POLITICO that Jeb Bush will be given a chance to audition for the brothers’ support, despite initial skepticism about him at the top of the Kochs’ growing political behemoth.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz debated at the Koch network’s winter seminar in January, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made a separate appearance. Those were the candidates who appeared to have a chance at the Koch blessing, and attendees said Rubio seemed to win that round.

But those four — plus Jeb – will be invited to the Kochs’ summer conference, the aide said. Bush is getting a second look because so many Koch supporters think he looks like a winner. Other candidates, perhaps Rick Perry or Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, may also get invitations.

As part of the Kochs’ screening process, favored candidates may also be invited to speak at a major gathering staged by the brothers’ network, such as an Americans for Prosperity summit. The brothers are likely to make a decision about whether to pick a horse many months from now, so that they have time to see how the candidates perform in debates, how they articulate issues the Kochs care about, and how strong a staff they have assembled.

The Kochs and their advisers will be looking for a candidate who is “solid on economic-freedom issues,” is “a passionate advocate for free markets,” and has “a positive, optimistic, pro-freedom message,” the aide said.

Bush is against the Export-Import bank. As Alec MacGillis–now with ProPublica–wrote for Slate in March, some in the conservative movement, like Heritage's Jim DeMint, were “ecstatic” over this move by Bush.

“I think he needs to address the perception people have that he’s maybe a little too tight with the business community and favoritism culture of Washington, D.C.,” said Michael Needham, head of Heritage Action.

As for winning the GOP nomination, Bush had a 25 percent chance last time anyone checked. Now, he has "as good a shot" as any candidate running this year [emphasis mine]:

The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, who are well sourced among Republican insiders, wrote that the GOP “establishment” is encouraging Bush to run. Leaders in the financial sector and evangelical community have been doing the same. One of Rucker and Costa’s sources said that the “vast majority” of 2012 GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s top donors would back Bush in a competitive nomination.

...

Voters who support less extreme candidates can still swing Republican nominations, according to Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group. (Just ask Romney and McCain.) And even very conservative Republicans are concerned about winning the White House: The ability to defeat Obama was the No. 1 most important quality for a candidate in 2012. The GOP insiders that Rucker and Costa cite have deemed Bush an electable candidate (for now).

2016 could be different if the tea party has its way. But — as “The Party Decides” found — the longer a party has been out of the White House, the more it tends to nominate more moderate candidates.

In the GOP, establishment support has usually foretold who will win the party’s nod. When a Republican candidate has won the majority of endorsements from GOP public officials, he has also won the nomination, as discussed in the book “The Party Decides.” Romney, for instance, took the most endorsements in 2012.

It may be true, as Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz pointed out, that the tea party is the “most politically active segment of the GOP electoral base.” But since Barry Goldwater took the Republican nomination in 1964, politicians who have challenged the establishment candidate from the right have always lost: Rick Santorum in 2012, Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Pat Buchanan in 1996 are some examples; Ronald Reagan won the nomination in 1980 after gathering establishment support, but not in 1976 when he challenged Gerald Ford.

Okay, I wouldn't characterize the rest of the serious field as extreme, but Nate Silver also wrote that Bush might not be a terrible general election candidate. In fact, he might be good enough to give the GOP a 50-50 chance in winning the presidency next year if he’s able to clinch the nomination. Silver noted a few interesting things.

  1. One is that even flawed candidates can unite the base; Romney was able to lock up 93 percent of the GOP vote in 2012. Additionally, Bush shouldn’t have the same problems with evangelicals that Romney had four years ago. 
  2. The independent favorable/unfavorable tea leaves matter more for Bush than Clinton since Obama won the popular vote in 2012, but lost by five with this bloc of voters in the general. Right now, both aren’t performing well with independents. Then again, the article noted that Bush’s moderate stance on policy could play well once the pace begins to pick up and people start to know him better. 
  3. Lastly, Bush is somewhat popular (54/28 favorable/unfavorable) with Republican voters based on the six most recent polls Silver analyzed.

This isn't necessarily catastrophic news. Still, the fact that his last successful election bid was in 2002 should give any potential supporter some pause.  The last time there was a 14-year gap between a candidate winning the presidency and his last successful election from wherever was when Lincoln won in 1860.  

He called a pathway to citizenship the “grown-up” plan on immigration, and seems to have no hesitation in sticking his head in the alligator’s mouth on issues he has to know are unpopular with GOP primary voters.  Maybe that factor is one of the reasons the Kochs are willing to interview him.  

Then again, it’s only April–and Bush 43 said he's a liability to his brother's potential presidential run.

A lot of things to consider for these businessmen.