Koch Proxies Threaten to Destroy Conservative Populism

A recent guest column in the Dallas Morning News offers new evidence that Conservatism, Inc. is bent on destroying conservative populism. The piece also underscores the primary streams of money in American politics: Trillions of dollars flow to progressives, billions flow to libertarians, and millions—on a good day—flow into the conservative populist movement.

The column is headlined “By supporting Trumpism, the GOP is in danger of losing libertarian support,” with the subtitle adding that “Many libertarians split from the party to vote for Biden.” The authors are Daniel Smith, an associate professor of economics at Middle Tennessee State University and director of the Political Economy Research Institute, and Alexander Salter, an associate professor of economics at Texas Tech University and a research fellow at Texas Tech’s Free Market Institute. But these two professors are not some random intellectuals. They are part of a billion-dollar machine, built to produce paid-for ideas.

The Political Economy Research Institute was established with seed money from the Charles Koch Foundation. And the Free Market Institute, per a 2016 investigation by the Texas Observer, is “largely bankrolled by the Koch network and other conservative interests and individuals.”

To be clear: the Dallas Morning News column is not an analysis. It is a threat. And the threat has nothing to do with libertarians ever becoming a viable political party, because they won’t. Instead, it’s about Conservatism, Inc., backed by libertarian billionaires, deciding that Democrats are preferable to “Trumpist” Republicans.

Smith and Salter claim Republicans are blaming libertarians for Trump’s electoral defeat. They then turn around and confirm libertarian voters, in fact, were responsible for defeating Trump: “The libertarian problem is much bigger than Republicans realize. The official libertarian vote exceeded Biden’s margin of victory in several key states.”

In this the authors are correct. The libertarian vote exceeded Biden’s margin of victory in Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and came within one-tenth of one percent in Pennsylvania (the state where Biden-friendly judges conveniently expelled the Green Party candidate from the ballot). Of nearly equal significance, U.S. Senate candidate Shane Hazel, one of the most obnoxious symbols of libertarian arrogance in American history, threw the Georgia election into a runoff, which ultimately cost the GOP control.

Smith and Salter acknowledge that “Libertarians, a cantankerous and individualist bunch, do not share a coordinated electoral strategy. Rather, their political tactics have been a mixed bag of not voting, voting for the capital-L Libertarian Party with practically zero chance of success, or voting Republican.” They claim that this time, however, libertarians didn’t just reject Republicans; they voted Democratic. How they explain this, to the extent their arguments aren’t simply incoherent, reveals just how aligned libertarians are with progressives.

In terms of incoherence, Smith and Salter claim that libertarians are “deeply concerned about the detrimental effects of regulation, taxation and a hike in the minimum wage on economic growth and prosperity.” But how do they translate any of these concerns into a vote for Biden over Trump?

Equally incoherent is the authors’ concern that Trump “would not accept the results of the election.” How does this square with the massive, coordinated efforts by every major American institution to deny Trump victory, an effort backed by thousands of militant thugs who burned down American cities, and encouraged by countless politicians who openly proclaimed their intention not to recognize a Trump victory?

Cementing Corporate Power

What’s going on here? These are libertarians. They’re supposed to be smart. They’re supposed to have integrity. They’re willing to vote for hopeless candidates because they hold their principles so dear. So why are the authors displaying such obvious double standards? Why such willful denial that the leftist juggernaut that was activated to oppose Trump was far more dangerous and far more odious than Trump, his tweets, or his policies? Why are Smith and Salter throwing paragraphs into their column that could have been at home on a CNN teleprompter?

The answer to this speaks not to incoherence, but to the calculated alliance that is growing between libertarians and progressives, an alliance that is cemented by billions, if not trillions of dollars of corporate power. Consider Smith and Salter’s penultimate paragraph:

If Democrats embrace important libertarian concerns, such as criminal justice reform, drug legalization, ending cronyism, and ceasing foreign interventionism, they could have a real shot of persuading marginal libertarians. And if the left retreated from their destructive economic policies, so much the better.

There’s a lot to chew on here. Criminal justice reform, for starters, was accomplished under the Trump Administration, and for many conservative populists, it is a dubious accomplishment. But it wasn’t Biden or the Democrats who pushed the First Step Act through Congress, it was Trump. 

And then there is the matter of “drug legalization,” a fantasy libertarians share with progressives, presumably involving hard drugs since marijuana is pretty much already legal. But letting criminals out of jail and legalizing drugs are ideas with significant consequences. Smith and Salter should spend a few nights in Venice Beach, California, so they may experience firsthand the impact of their principles in action.

And how about “ending cronyism, and ceasing foreign interventionism”? Because the foundation of Democratic Party power—public-sector unions along with private-sector unions that are borderline Communist—has not created a nexus of politically connected corporations and public sector power brokers? And these power brokers are not destroying every blue state in America? Who do these guys think they’re kidding? 

As for “ceasing foreign interventionism,” how many times do NeverTrumpers have to be reminded that the would-be “dictator” strengthened America’s military deterrent, did not start new wars, and brokered historic peace agreements in the Middle East and in the Balkans?

“And if the left retreated from their destructive economic policies, so much the better,” Smith and Slater tell us, as if that’s an afterthought. But it isn’t an afterthought—or shouldn’t be. It’s the heart of the choice between Trump and Biden. Regulations. Higher taxes. A minimum wage increase. The Green New Deal. “If the left retreated from their destructive economic policies.” Reality alert: The Left is not going to “retreat from their destructive economic policies.” The authors must know this. But apparently indulging populist progressivism is preferable to populist conservatism.

Smith and Salter are producing paid-for ideas. It’s part of their job. Just as it would be an unthinkable, career-ending move for a progressive columnist to question the climate change narrative, for Smith and Salter to acknowledge Trump’s contributions could be problematic for their professional futures.

It isn’t conservative populists who need to do the soul searching in the wake of Trump’s defeat. It is these libertarians who need to decide what they want to do when they grow up. They can keep on taking money from globalist billionaires and writing columns that are in equal measure incoherent or regurgitations of progressivism-lite, or they can face reality. Trump, notwithstanding his bombastic personality, was a pragmatic moderate, whose crime—if you want to call it that—was to care about the working men and women of this nation.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

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