The Koch Brothers Are Having a Bad Election Year

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The immensely wealthy and politically engaged brothers at the helm of their family’s energy-based conglomerate are not doing so well in the politics of 2016.Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/WireImage/Getty Images

There are a lot of conservatives, ranging from Jeb Bush and Paul Ryan to various personages at Fox News, who are having a tough time in 2016. It’s looking even tougher as Republicans head toward a waxing on November 8, certainly in the presidential race, more likely than not in the fight for the Senate, and maybe even in seeking to retain a foothold on power in the House.

One big power node on the right that is approaching Election Day with a particularly strong sense of remorse and foreboding is the network of donors and wire-pullers assembled and generally directed by Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries. As Kenneth Vogel of Politico reports, the Koch network is suffering from a crisis of confidence after what amounts to a lost election cycle:

Over the last seven years, their operation grew to the point where it resembled a privatized political party, heading into the cycle pledging to spend $889 million through an infrastructure that rivaled that of the Republican National Committee.

Since then, though, the Koch operation has decided to sit out the presidential race, reduced its spending goal to $750 million, failed to maintain the support of some top donors including Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, announced that it was consolidating or eliminating some of the groups and initiatives in the network, and irked Republicans by opting not to advertise heavily on television in the final month of the campaign.

Worse yet, says Vogel, the bros seem to be taking away from this experience a determination to avoid throwing good money after bad. And so they may be reluctant to participate as fully as one would expect in the “post-Trump rebuilding of the conservative movement.” But there is more to their unhappiness than squandered dollars: a realization that the Koch network played a big role in creating the out-of-control “populist” base that is now tearing the conservative movement and the GOP apart.

“We are partly responsible,” said one former network staffer. “We invested a lot in training and arming a grassroots army that was not controllable, and some of these people have used it in ways that are not consistent with our principles, with our goal of advancing a free society, and instead they have furthered the alt-right.”

This is pretty much what Barack Obama said recently in charging conservatives with “riding the tiger” of extremism under the mistaken impression that they were in control of the beast.

In any event, the Koch network is looking ahead to the postelection environment with an unusual sense of trepidation. Vogel offers this tantalizing detail:

Earlier in the month, the network held a document clean-up and retention week during which shredding bins were brought to the offices of various network groups, and employees were encouraged to identify sensitive files for destruction.

Maybe that was just a routine housekeeping chore or a hedge against a cyberattack. Or maybe the idea of a new Democratic administration with control of at least one branch of Congress is making the Kochs and their allies worried about investigations. It is probably just another sign of an autumn of uncertainty in Koch World that could lead to a winter of discontent.