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.
The US President’s comments follow news media reports that some officials with the Koch donor network sought to distance itself from Mr 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 Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans seeking to maintain control of both chambers of Congress when U.S. voters cast ballots in November.
Mr Trump wrote on Twitter:
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 Mr Trump during the 2016 presidential election, in part over his divisive rhetoric toward Muslims and others.
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 Mr Trump over taxes and judicial appointments, Bloomberg News reported that Charles Koch told reporters at the weekend gathering that Mr 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 Mr 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 Mr Trump’s moves but have stopped short of taking any major action.
Mr 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 Mr 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 Mr Trump endorsed on Friday.