Why Democrats Are Going All In on the Koch Brothers

Doubters are missing the point, Democrats say, and are probably not their target audience anyway.

Commanding attention: David and Charles Koch
National Journal
Alex Seitz-Wald
March 27, 2014, 4:20 p.m.

With a new poll this week show­ing that few­er than half of Amer­ic­ans know who the Koch broth­ers are, many ob­serv­ers in Wash­ing­ton are a bit per­plexed by Demo­crats’ re­cent front­al as­sault on the bil­lion­aire con­ser­vat­ive donors.

The cri­ti­cism, in a nut­shell: The Koch broth­ers aren’t on the bal­lot any­where, and most Amer­ic­ans have no idea who they are, so how does this ap­proach end up help­ing any­one? To Demo­crats, this misses the point. And they think the 2012 elec­tion shows why they’ll be vin­dic­ated in the end.

Con­trary to some as­ser­tions, Demo­crats con­tend that the strategy is not about vil­i­fy­ing or in­tim­id­at­ing Re­pub­lic­an donors, nor is not about fun­drais­ing (al­though that’s a very nice bo­nus), and it’s not even really about the Kochs them­selves. It’s about what they rep­res­ent.

The Koch at­tacks have two audi­ences. For the base, they’re an ef­fort to con­vey the im­port­ance of this elec­tion, so hope­fully few­er voters will stay home. To every­one else, they help draw a con­trast by com­mu­nic­at­ing what Re­pub­lic­ans stand for in an emo­tion­ally sa­li­ent way.

Keep this in mind: The Demo­crat­ic Party’s primary goal in many states this year is not ne­ces­sar­ily to con­vince in­de­pend­ent voters to side with the party, but to get their own voters to the polls. As Pres­id­ent Obama him­self said at a re­cent Demo­crat­ic fun­draiser: “In midterms we get clobbered — either be­cause we don’t think it’s im­port­ant or we’ve be­come so dis­cour­aged about what’s hap­pen­ing in Wash­ing­ton.”

The Koch at­tacks help raise the stakes for lib­er­als. “For years, Re­pub­lic­ans have raised mil­lions of dol­lars off of folks like Sen­at­or Kennedy and now lead­er Pelosi, so it’s no sur­prise that Demo­crats are try­ing to do the same thing here head­ing in­to the 2014 elec­tions, try­ing to en­er­gize the base,” says Jim Man­ley, a long­time former aide to Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, who has led his party’s Koch-bash­ing.

But the strategy doesn’t stop there. “We are big be­liev­ers in start­ing with base and work­ing your way to in­dies,” said a Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship aide, not­ing that the party took a sim­il­ar ap­proach on elec­tion-year is­sues such as rais­ing the min­im­um wage and ex­tend­ing un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits. But above all else, the aide said, the Kochs are an “ideo­lo­gic­al foil,” stand­ing for everything Demo­crats do not.

And Demo­crats main­tain that the at­tacks will still res­on­ate, even if voters don’t know ex­actly who Charles and Dav­id Koch are. “This could be two oth­er donors with a dif­fer­ent last names,” says Justin Barasky, spokes­per­son for the DSCC. “Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate can­did­ates across the map are sup­port­ing an agenda that is good for out-of-state bil­lion­aires like the Koch broth­ers, and bad for pretty much every­one else in that state.”¦ It’s a quid pro quo ar­gu­ment that voters really un­der­stand.”

Demo­crats are ac­tu­ally pleased with the res­ults from this week’s George Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity Battle­ground Poll, say­ing they ex­pec­ted even few­er Amer­ic­ans to be fa­mil­i­ar with the Kochs. And, thanks to the com­ing Demo­crat­ic air war on the Kochs, they’ll prob­ably poll even high­er by the time gen­er­al-elec­tion battles get un­der­way later this year.

Even bet­ter for Demo­crats, the poll showed that those who do know the broth­ers are in­clined to dis­like them, with a 12-point net neg­at­ive fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ing. Com­pare that to Wall Street’s neg­at­ive 10-point rat­ing, or Rand Paul’s pos­it­ive 8-point rat­ing. “There you go — the Kochs are by miles the least pop­u­lar icons of the pro-busi­ness, liber­tari­an right. It only makes sense to pum­mel them,” Slate‘s Dave Wei­gel wrote.

And with years of ubi­quit­ous cov­er­age in the pro­gress­ive me­dia, lib­er­als es­pe­cially are primed to have an emo­tion­al re­sponse to the Kochs, and may see get­ting to the polls as a means of stop­ping spe­cial in­terests from steal­ing the elec­tion.

To doubters, Demo­crats point to the Obama cam­paign’s as­sault on Mitt Rom­ney’s ca­reer at Bain Cap­it­al two years ago. It wasn’t just about paint­ing Rom­ney as an out-of-touch plu­to­crat (al­though that helped), but about adding an emo­tion­al valence to Rom­ney’s policy agenda, which they said would be­ne­fit wealthy people like Bain ex­ec­ut­ives.

At first, the Bain at­tacks were con­tro­ver­sial, even among Demo­crats. But as time went on, they proved ef­fect­ive and doubters even­tu­ally came around.

Demo­crats who fa­vor the Koch ap­proach ex­pect it to fol­low the same arc. “Re­id got this su­per early on and got ri­diculed. But we star­ted mak­ing the case and I think every­one’s slowly grav­it­at­ing. At the very least, it’s a real con­ver­sa­tion now,” the Sen­ate aide said.

To be sure, boo­gey­men at­tacks have a mixed re­cord. In 2010, for in­stance, Demo­crats went after Karl Rove and the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce with sim­il­ar charges to those be­ing used now against the Kochs. Spoil­er: They lost. And as with the Bain strategy, the Koch plan pri­or­it­izes tear­ing down the op­pos­i­tion over build­ing up one’s own side.

But Re­pub­lic­ans are largely do­ing the same with their Obama­care at­tacks, and more im­port­antly, Demo­crats are fa­cing an ex­ist­en­tial threat in the Sen­ate. This is no time to play nice.

What We're Following See More »
‘PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE’
Priebus Asks Party to Unite Behind Trump
5 hours ago
THE LATEST
FEELING THE MIDWESTERN BERN
Sanders Upsets Clinton in Indiana
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

Despite trailing Hillary Clinton by a significant margin, Bernie Sanders wasn't going the way of Ted Cruz tonight. The Vermont senator upset Clinton in Indiana, with MSNBC calling the race at 9pm. Sanders appears poised to win by a five- or six-point spread.

Source:
TRUMP IS PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE
Ted Cruz Bows Out, Effectively Ceding the Contest to Trump
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

And just like that, it's over. Ted Cruz will suspend his presidential campaign after losing badly to Donald Trump in Indiana tonight. "While Cruz had always hedged when asked whether he would quit if he lost Indiana; his campaign had laid a huge bet on the state." John Kasich's campaign has pledged to carry on. “From the beginning, I’ve said that I would continue on as long as there was a viable path to victory,” said Cruz. “Tonight, I’m sorry to say it appears that path has been foreclosed."

Source:
TAKES AT LEAST 45 DELEGATES
Trump Wins Indiana, All but Seals the Nomination
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

The Republican establishment's last remaining hope—a contested convention this summer—may have just ended in Indiana, as Donald Trump won a decisive victory over Ted Cruz. Nothing Cruz seemed to have in his corner seemed to help—not a presumptive VP pick in Carly Fiorina, not a midwestern state where he's done well in the past, and not the state's legions of conservatives. Though Trump "won't secure the 1,237 delegates he needs to formally claim the nomination until June, his Indiana triumph makes it almost impossible to stop him. Following his decisive wins in New York and other East Coast states, the Indiana victory could put Trump within 200 delegates of the magic number he needs to clinch the nomination." Cruz, meanwhile, "now faces the agonizing choice of whether to remain in the race, with his attempt to force the party into a contested convention in tatters, or to bow out and cede the party nomination to his political nemesis." The Associated Press, which called the race at 7pm, predicts Trump will win at least 45 delegates.

Source:
THE QUESTION
What’s the Average Household Income of a Trump Voter?
12 hours ago
THE ANSWER

Seventy-two thousand dollars, according to FiveThirtyEight. That's higher than the national average, as well as the average Clinton or Sanders voter, but lower than the average Kasich voter.

Source:
×