WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday lashed out at the Koch brothers, tweeting that the billionaire industrialists are a “total joke in real Republican circles” and that he is “a puppet for no one.”
It’s the latest salvo between the president and Charles and David Koch, who did not endorse Trump in his 2016 presidential bid and have lashed out at Trump’s spending plans and trade policies.
Trump later added: “I’m for America First & the American Worker — a puppet for no one. Two nice guys with bad ideas.”
On Monday, the political advocacy network created by the billionaire industrialists announced it would not back the GOP candidate in the North Dakota Senate race. The decision was a warning shot to fellow Republicans that they should do more to elect candidates who challenge government spending.
Trump was expected to travel to Tampa, Florida, on Tuesday to express support for his preferred candidate for governor in a competitive primary. The president was planning a rally in support of Rep. Ron DeSantis, who faces off against state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the state’s Aug. 28 GOP primary.
Trump tweeted early in the day that DeSantis has “my Full & Total Endorsement!” He cited the congressman’s record on crime, border security, gun rights and taxes.
Another Trump ally, Gov. Rick Scott, is joining the president at an event earlier in the day. Scott is seeking to defeat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in a high-profile Senate race.
Trump vs. The Kochs
Trump has played a role in several Republican primaries, helping candidates in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina in recent weeks with endorsements that underscore his influence within the GOP.
But the president’s policies have been at odds with the Kochs’ political arm, Americans for Prosperity. The group says it still plans to focus its resources on helping Republican Senate candidates in Tennessee, Florida, and Wisconsin.
But Charles Koch told reporters in recent days that he cared little for party affiliation and regretted supporting some Republicans in the past who only paid lip service to conservative principles.
Network leaders over the weekend repeatedly lashed out at the Republican-backed $1.3 trillion spending bill adopted in March, which represented the largest government spending plan in history. The Trump White House budget office now predicts that next year’s federal deficit will exceed $1 trillion while reaching a combined $8 trillion over the next 10 years.
The Kochs were equally concerned about the Trump administration’s “protectionist” trade policies, which have sparked an international trade war and could trigger a U.S. recession, Koch said.
“We’re going to be much stricter if they say they’re for the principles we espouse and then they aren’t,” Koch vowed. “We’re going to more directly deal with that and hold people responsible for their commitments.”