Trump rejects ‘overrated’ conservative Koch donor network

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday slammed the powerful Koch-led political donor network as “globalist” and “a total joke,” rejecting the conservative group amid reports that it was shifting away from him over trade and immigration issues.

Charles Koch (L) and David Koch are seen in this combination picture. REUTERS/Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce/Handout/Carlo Allegri

Trump’s comments follow news media reports that some officials with the Koch donor network sought to distance itself from Trump and the Republican Party at a weekend gathering in Colorado where concerns were also raised that the president’s trade policies could fuel a recession.

The political spat comes less than four months before the midterm congressional elections that have Trump’s fellow Republicans seeking to maintain control of both chambers of Congress when U.S. voters cast ballots in November.

“The globalist Koch Brothers, who have become a total joke in real Republican circles, are against strong borders and powerful trade. I never sought their support because I don’t need their money or bad ideas,” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.

“Their network is highly overrated, I have beaten them at every turn.”

Charles and David Koch have been a force in American politics for decades, channeling billions of dollars into conservative causes. But the billionaire industrialist pair distanced themselves from Trump during the 2016 presidential election, in part over his divisive rhetoric toward Muslims and others.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a swearing in ceremony for new U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. July 30, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Charles Koch has taken the lead after his younger brother, David, stepped down from their political group and their company Koch Industries earlier in June due to poor health.

While the two have backed Trump over taxes and judicial appointments, Bloomberg News reported that Charles Koch told reporters at the weekend gathering that Trump’s trade policies, including tariffs, could trigger severe economic fallout.

The Kochs’ influence has been powered by their fortunes from Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held U.S. company with operations in a range of sectors from refining and chemicals to ranching and forest products.

The pair have championed free trade and have launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to oppose Trump’s tariffs, which have targeted China, Canada, Mexico and the European Union, among others. Republicans have traditionally also backed free trade, and some lawmakers have grumbled about Trump’s moves but have stopped short of taking any major action.

Trump has defended his trade policies, saying he backs free but “fair” trade to support U.S. workers.

In another twist, the Koch-backed network over the weekend also touted its support of Democratic U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, according to the Washington Post and Bloomberg.

Heitkamp is one of a handful of vulnerable Senate Democrats facing tough re-election races in conservative states that overwhelmingly backed Trump in 2016.

Her Senate seat, along with those in West Virginia, Indiana, Montana and Missouri, are critical given the Republicans’ narrowly 51-49 hold on the chamber. She faces Republican U.S. Representative Kevin Cramer, who Trump endorsed on Friday.

Reporting by Susan Heavey; editing by John Stonestreet and Jonathan Oatis

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