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Did the Kochs Bring Us President Trump?

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Jane Mayer; David and Charles Koch
Jane Mayer; David and Charles Koch
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Pundits have plenty of reasons for Republicans' 2016 electoral success, but none may be as explanatory as a book published in January, before a single ballot was cast.

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In Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Jane Mayer zeroes in on brothers Charles and David Koch and the secret network they've created to push their anti-government zealotry. Their decades of work and billions of dollars help explain the rise of the extreme Right today.

"During the 1970s, a handful of the nation's wealthiest corporate captains felt overtaxed and overregulated and decided to fight back," writes Mayer. "Disenchanted with the direction of modern America, they launched an ambitious, privately financed war of ideas to radically change the country."

Koch Industries -- one of the country's top polluters -- has faced hundreds of millions of dollars in government fines and penalties. Its owners, oil and gas barons Charles and David, would go on to lead this coordinated anti-government war.

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Into the Shadows

Charles and David Koch used to be open about their anti-government extremism.

In 1980, David made his case to the public, running for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket against Ronald Reagan, who the Kochs felt was too mainstream. The ticket received just one percent of the vote.

"The Kochs failed at the ballot box in 1980," writes Mayer, "but instead of accepting America's verdict, they set out to change how it voted."

Undaunted by the electoral rebuke, Charles and David pushed on, only now away from the spotlight ("The whale that spouts is the one that gets harpooned," their father used to say).

The brothers began clandestinely partnering with fellow billionaires to secretly fund a vast network of right-wing organizations, dubbed the "Kochtopus" by critics.

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The Kochs and their allies learned that "if they pooled their vast resources," writes Mayer, "they could fund an interlocking array of organizations that could work in tandem to influence and ultimately control academic institutions, think tanks, the courts, statehouses, Congress, and, they hoped, the presidency."

Foot Soldiers for the 1%

The Koch network has taken decades to perfect. Win or lose, it doesn't dismantle after elections -- if anything it grows. Obama's presidency in particular has spurred billionaires to invest in the Kochtopus.

It wasn't just the ultra-rich who were stirred up after Obama's 2008 win. Economic insecurity and the election of the first black president resulted in white backlash, which presented an opportunity for the Kochs to develop what they always needed: an army of dedicated foot soldiers willing to fight for their extreme agenda.

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Pete Tucker is an independent DC reporter.

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