The simmering feud between America’s two richest political dynasties, the Trump and Koch brothers, is threatening to inflame the 2020 presidential race even as it plays out in the traditional corridors of Washington.
Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president in 2016, is prepared to upend the status quo, possibly to try to prevent another president – the Koch brothers – from entering the Oval Office.
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Trump also retains a strong base of support in northern and western states that are considered prime targets for Republican activists and party powerbrokers ahead of the midterms. The Texas senator Ted Cruz, a Trump rival in 2016, is considered among the foremost contenders for the 2020 nomination.
But the Kochs, the billionaire energy billionaire industrialists, have remained steadfastly hostile to Trump. They see a future in which anti-Trump forces seek to thwart his authority, barring his reelection in office. The Kochs consider the 43rd president, or the one after that, to be illegitimate.
To support this view, a formidable group of activists – including two Koch oil industry friends in Texas – gather to strategise on state ballots and the US Congress on Tuesday in a congressional retreat in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Trump travelled to a Koch retreat last month and rekindled their disdain.
At the retreat, from 9 to 11 November, the Kochs’ political director, Richard Fink, told a small gathering of donors that the Kochs intend to spend at least $400m to back what they regard as individual Republican challengers to the Democrats in 2020. Fink used the occasion to repeat a key strategy for maintaining their power: they could launch campaigns against any Republican who even appeared willing to consider nominating Trump.
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“They have their eye on the 2020 nomination,” the Times of London reported on Friday, citing an anonymous insider at the meeting. “They have to figure out how to prevent Trump from running again and taking the party to the far right.”
Two examples that may emerge in the near future: one of the president’s cabinet secretaries, Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, announced his retirement from the Senate on Monday in an attempt to become a federal judge and allow a new conservative to take over in the upper chamber.
“I’m running for the supreme court because I was offended by the fact that this man, the 45th president of the United States, would promote his own children to important positions,” Inhofe said.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, says he will not seek the Republican nomination for the presidency. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
In a talk on Monday in Oxon Hill, Fink said: “He’s not [the] presidential nominee, but how do you stop that? And how do you stop him for five years?” This prompted McCarthy to advocate Trump’s impeachment, the Times reported. The Republican congressman, Kevin McCarthy, will not seek the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2020. “I’m not it,” McCarthy said of Trump. “If I do that, that’s being a traitor.”
Democrats will be led by Martin O’Malley, O’Hare added, when he was asked about whether the Kochs would share the initiative.
The Kochs have had a sour personal relationship with Trump since his election victory in 2016. They strongly criticised his campaign style and rhetoric and perceived a hostility to free markets. Trump had called the Kochs “very bad for the country” and attacked their “vicious” treatment of him and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Trump stormed into office on a wave of discontent with Washington and is showing little sign of backing off. He tweeted on Thursday: “In order to help Control Crime, the Sanctuary Cities must stop the release of illegal criminals into our Country, and must detain them, without Release, until such time as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is notified.”