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Nikki Haley Gets a Koch-Funded Boost in Early States
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Nikki Haley Gets a Koch-Funded Boost in Early States

Plus: The Koch network's Hispanic outreach organization lays out its 2024 plans.

Happy Wednesday! These might be the last two days Rep. George Santos is in the news—cherish them.

Up to Speed

  • Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, a moderate by reputation who has never broken with President Joe Biden on a vote, is taking a new tack as he forges ahead with his longshot primary challenge against Biden: attacking him from the left. Phillips has criticized Biden’s old-school opposition to legalizing marijuana and called for a ceasefire in Gaza contingent on Hamas’s release of all its hostages. Moreover, his campaign told Politico this week that Phillips plans to roll out plans next month for universal health care, national paid family leave, raising the minimum wage, and reinstating the lapsed expanded child tax credit.
  • Congress may be inching closer to a deal that would pair additional federal funding for Ukraine’s defensive war against Russia with border security measures focusing on changes to the U.S. asylum system. House Speaker Mike Johnson—to the consternation of some hardliners in his GOP caucus—has publicly endorsed pairing the two issues: “We can’t allow Vladimir Putin to march through Europe,” he said at a Monday event in Florida. “What we’ve said is that if there is to be additional assistance to Ukraine, which most members of Congress believe is important, we have to also work on changing our own border policy,” Johnson added. Meanwhile, a number of Senate Democrats—especially those with tough reelection bids looming next year—have suggested they’re open to such a pairing too.
  • Rep. George Santos will face a second expulsion vote from the House of Representatives this week—one that seems likely to meet the required two-thirds majority threshold following the release of a damning ethics committee report on Santos’ various lies and alleged financial crimes earlier this month.
  • It’s debate week in America! No, we’re not talking about the Republican presidential primary debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (That’s next week.) Tomorrow night, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California will face off in Alpharetta, Georgia, for a 90-minute televised debate on Fox News. Hosted by conservative broadcaster Sean Hannity, the debate will be a sort of presidential debate from an alternative universe, and it comes after Newsom poked and prodded his GOP counterpart for months to take him on. The two governors will meet in a studio near Atlanta, without a live audience. Here’s Hannity on the role he hopes to play: “The less of me, probably, the better.” 

Nikki Haley Notches Significant Koch Network Endorsement

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley delivers remarks during a town hall campaign event in Bluffton, South Carolina, on November 27, 2023. (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley delivers remarks during a town hall campaign event in Bluffton, South Carolina, on November 27, 2023. (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu via Getty Images)

If you’re looking for further signs of Nikki-mentum, here’s one: Americans for Prosperity Action, a powerful super PAC founded by the conservatarian megadonor Koch brothers, endorsed the former governor and ambassador Tuesday, promising to deploy the “full weight and scope” of its huge grassroots network to buttress Haley’s campaign infrastructure in early states and pledging millions of dollars in outside ad spending.

“AFP Action is proud to throw our full support behind Nikki Haley, who offers America the opportunity to turn the page on the current political era, to win the Republican primary and defeat Joe Biden next November,” the group said in a memo announcing the endorsement. “She has what it takes to lead a policy agenda to take on our nation’s biggest challenges and help ensure our country’s best days are ahead.”

In some ways, the group and the candidate are an odd match: Haley is a thoroughgoing defense hawk, while Charles Koch (David Koch died in 2019) has long championed a more restrained U.S. foreign policy. 

But AFP Action wasn’t looking for an ideological soul mate—they were looking for a candidate who could beat Trump in a primary. Their endorsement of Haley over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is the latest indicator that the remaining anti-Trump elements within the party increasingly see her as their best shot to do that. 

“Gov. DeSantis has been a tremendous leader for the state of Florida,” Emily Seidel, president of Americans for Prosperity and senior advisor to AFP Action, told reporters on a Tuesday call. “He’s been a strong advocate for many of the policies that we fight for every day. But all of the evidence … points to the fact that Nikki Haley is the strongest candidate in this race, and that’s why we’ve decided to support her.”

To support this claim, AFP Action points to its own polling. Haley, the group says, has the lowest early-state unfavorable numbers of any GOP candidate, and more DeSantis supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire have a favorable impression of Haley than the other way around. Meanwhile, the group adds, Haley outperforms both Trump and DeSantis in national and swing-state head-to-head polls against Biden.

But Haley’s surge hasn’t convinced the rest of the field to clear the way, and it’s not clear whether any amount of outside spending—even from a well-heeled group like AFP Action—is likely to change that. Team DeSantis reacted with hostility to the news Tuesday, with DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romeo sarcastically congratulating Donald Trump, not Haley, “on securing the Koch endorsement.”

“Like clockwork, the pro-open borders, pro-jail break bill establishment is lining up behind a moderate who has no mathematical pathway to defeat the former president,” Romeo tweeted. “Every dollar spent on Nikki Haley’s candidacy should be reported as an in-kind to the Trump campaign. No one has a stronger record of beating the establishment than Ron DeSantis, and this time will be no different.”

Koch Network Group Focused on Hispanics Wades Into 2024

Another organization affiliated with the Koch network of political groups is endorsing Nevada Senate contender Sam Brown, a Republican challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen in a contest poised to determine which party controls the narrowly divided Senate in 2025.

The endorsement from the Libre Initiative Action—dedicated to mobilizing Hispanic voters for conservative candidates and causes—was shared with The Dispatch early Wednesday. The Koch-linked group additionally announced plans to put money and manpower behind three Hispanic Republicans elected to the House just last year: Reps. Juan Ciscomani of Arizona, Monica De La Cruz of Texas, and Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida. 

It’s the beginning of a broader effort by the Libre Initiative Action to turn out Hispanic voters for the GOP in dozens of races down ticket, in a dozen targeted states, as the party moves to expand its thin House majority and recapture the Senate. The organization has 200 paid staff, and claims “thousands” of volunteers, across Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

“Our community, and our nation, needs strong principled policy champions on Capitol Hill leading by example,” Jose Mallea, senior adviser to the group, said in a statement. “That is why we are endorsing and mobilizing our grassroots army of Latino volunteers and voters to support these candidates in these key races.”

The Libre Initiative Action has not ruled out endorsing a Republican presidential contender, and would likely oppose former President Donald Trump should it get involved in the GOP primary. 

“We feel strongly that the polarization and the division in the country is worsening, and we just need to turn the page on that,” Daniel Garza, president of the group’s policy arm, the Libre Initiative, said earlier this month during a breakfast with reporters in Miami. “We want to turn the page on the current primary leader.”

According to the Pew Research Center, the Democratic Party’s advantage among Hispanic voters has shrunk consistently since the 2018 midterm elections. In that contest, Democrats were plus-47 percentage points over Republicans with this crucial bloc. Two years later, when Joe Biden ousted Trump, Democrats saw their margin with Hispanics drop to plus-25 points, with that number diminishing to plus-21 points in the 2022 midterm elections. 

The Libre Initiative Action views these numbers as a real opportunity to help Republicans become truly competitive with Hispanic voters—especially given Biden’s vulnerability heading into 2024, punctuated by deep dissatisfaction with the economy. 

To that end, the group is tracking more than 100 down ticket races, focusing on those that the nonpartisan Cook Political Report with Amy Walter rates as the most competitive. The goal is to figure out where Hispanic voters are likely to make the biggest impact—and therefore where the Libre Initiative Action can do the same. Key to the group’s efforts in any contest it invests in is peer-to-peer engagement, enlisting Hispanics who live in the community to communicate to targeted Hispanic voters.

“One of the things that we have observed, keenly, is that there’s a lot of mistrust in the Latino community—as there is with our fellow Americans— of media … and parties,” Garza said. “The folks who they do trust are the people that they go to work with, that they go to school with, that they go to church with—their neighbors. And that’s exactly who we mobilize to target these folks to turn them out.”

The issues the Libre Initiative Action expects to emphasize in the upcoming campaign are inflation, the economy, and jobs, because those are Hispanic voters’ top priorities, according to the group’s internal polling. 

Worth Your Time

Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics is one of the best political analysts out there, and his latest piece is a clear-eyed look at just how strong Donald Trump’s general election position is looking at this moment in time. The former president is currently leading Biden by 2.6 percentage points nationally in RCP’s polling average—his largest ever lead across all three presidential cycles in which he’s run. “Analyzing this election correctly isn’t just a matter of giving lip service to the notion that Trump can win,” Trende writes. “The correct position right now is that Trump is better positioned in the polls to win this election than any GOP nominee since 2024. Not only that, he habitually overperforms his polls. Frankly, if you are willing to set favorites this far out, you should almost certainly declare Donald Trump the favorite.”

Notable and Quotable 

“I’m sure he has never even smelled weed, let alone smoked it. I think he should, because he would find it awfully hypocritical that you can drink a half-gallon of Jack Daniels at night and report to work in his White House. But if you ate a gummy and it was discovered, you’d be fired and maybe even imprisoned.”

—Rep. Dean Phillips on President Joe Biden at a New Hampshire town hall this month, reported by Politico on November 28, 2023

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.