WASHINGTON | Billionaire Charles Koch, one of America’s most influential conservative donors, said he is fed up with the vitriol of the presidential race and will air national TV ads that call on citizens to work together to fix a “rigged” economy that leaves behind the poor.
Koch, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, described Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton as part of personality politics at its worst. He said that’s why neither he nor the political and policy groups he controls are playing much of a role in the presidential election. Instead, in an unusual strategy, the ads will be paid for by his private company, Koch Industries.
“Both the primaries and the general (election) seems it’s more, ‘You’re the enemy, you’re evil, or you’re stupid,’ or whatever ad hominem attacks on each other,” Koch said, “rather than trying to find common ground so different opposing views can learn from each other and we can find better solutions.”
Democrats, who have spent years vilifying Charles and David Koch, are unlikely to see them as unifiers. The brothers steer hundreds of millions of dollars — their own money and from like-minded donors whose identities are largely kept private — into electoral politics and mostly Republican efforts at all levels of government.
While the Kochs have supported most of the previous GOP presidential nominees, they have a far less favorable view of Trump. A billionaire himself, Trump wrote on Twitter last year that most of his GOP rivals were “puppets” of the Kochs. The bad blood reflects the tensions between Trump and some of the Republicans’ biggest donors, which could hurt his fundraising efforts.
Still, Charles Koch said his policy team plans to meet with Trump’s policy team, at the request of the Trump campaign. He added he’d be happy to arrange the same sort of chat with Clinton’s camp. Koch said he’d “love to get them on board” with any of his political ideas, the same feeling he has about Trump.
With a campaign they’re calling “End the Divide,” the Kochs are taking a page from the playbook of other Republican leaders eager to talk about something other than their party’s flame-throwing nominee.
They’re plowing ahead with recommendations from a study the Republican Party made after its 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, lost to President Barack Obama. It found the party has been harmed by a perception “that the GOP does not care about people.”
Also offering a kinder, gentler Republican counterweight to Trump: House Speaker Paul Ryan. On Tuesday, he held forth at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in Washington to outline House Republicans’ plan to reduce poverty.
The Koch ads are part of a branding strategy for their multibillion-dollar conglomerate, based in Wichita, Kansas. But their long-time political activism means the campaign doubles, in a way, as a Republican effort.
The 60-second ad has the feel of something coming from a political candidate, with language that might appeal to supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
It shows Americans in contrasting neighborhoods and homes, and some people who look content and others who appear stressed. A narrator says: “Look around: America is divided. Between success and failure. With government and corporations picking winners and losers. Rigging the system against the people. Creating a two-tiered society.”
Before directing viewers to an “End the Divide” website hosted by Koch Industries, the narrator says, “It’s time to remove the barriers, to end the divide, to replace winner-take-all with a system where we all can win.”
Many of Koch’s policy prescriptions on issues such as education reform, government regulation and reducing poverty align more closely with Republicans. Yet Koch says he could find common ground with Democrats on some things, pointing to his partnership with the White House and Democratic senators on efforts to reduce incarceration.
It’s not a comfortable fit. Obama and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid are among those who have called out the Kochs by name, with Reid denouncing them from the Senate floor as “un-American.”
Koch said those sorts of attacks “are not about to stop me.”
Koch said that because he’s not a politician worried about the next election, he has the flexibility to make an issues-based appeal to Americans through ads, which will air starting Friday on national networks, cable channels and online.
“We’re not running a popularity contest. We’re not promising people things that can’t be delivered,” Koch said. “We’re trying to encourage people to think about how do I succeed by helping others improve their lives” even if it involves doing things that “may not win me votes or get me a lot of money.”
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