Koch network faces internal scrutiny after Nikki Haley endorsement

The political branch of the powerful Koch network is facing scrutiny as operatives chafe against a decision to endorse Nikki Haley for president that many see as out of step with their values.

The decision by Americans for Prosperity's super PAC to get behind a candidate with seemingly little chance of prevailing in the GOP primary — and, more critically, one who espouses views contrary to key parts of the Koch network’s well-financed advocacy efforts — has confounded longtime Koch-world operatives alike.

Chris Maidment, who up until this weekend was a director of grassroots operations for Americans for Prosperity in the key primary state of New Hampshire, spoke out late Friday on X that he opposed the group’s endorsement of Haley and would not be helping the organization to support her.

A day later, Maidment was “terminated” from the organization, he said, and he told NBC News that he is not the only one within the Koch-backed group who is disappointed in the Haley endorsement. He noted Americans for Prosperity leadership were warned there would be “attrition” within the group’s ranks if they moved ahead with backing Haley.

“There are dozens who feel the way I do. That was the main motivation for my thread. They, for obvious reasons, don’t want to speak out but I’ve spoken with many who agree with my perspective on this and are dismayed with the endorsement,” Maidment said. “And it was made known to leadership well in advance of the endorsement that there would be a lot of attrition if Haley ended up being the choice.”

Maidment said he was among the AFP employees who warned he would not stay there if they backed Haley.

An AFP official responded, “This is primary season, and with a grassroots organization as large as AFP Action, it’s entirely expected to see some individuals move to different campaigns or pursue other opportunities. But AFP Action has also heard from a number of people excited about our endorsement and interested in ways they can join our team and help the effort. And the response we’re already seeing at the doors reinforces that excitement and momentum.”

In Iowa on Saturday, Mark Lucas, former director of the Iowa chapter of Americans for Prosperity, endorsed former President Donald Trump and said the group was out of step with caucusgoers in the state.

“Respectfully, anybody not supporting Trump is delaying the inevitable,” Lucas said at Trump’s event in Cedar Rapids. “I’m one of the biggest champions of our beloved Iowa caucus. But this primary is done.”

Haley has used rising international tensions as a hook to tout her experience on the world stage, speaking about the need for a muscular foreign policy and calling anonymity online a “national security threat.” And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decline in state and national GOP primary polls gave her an opening with anti-Trump donors and activists looking for an alternative.

Asked this week by NBC News on a press call about how AFP sought to bridge Haley’s interventionist foreign policy instincts with the Koch-funded universe advocating restraint, the group’s CEO, Emily Seidel, said the network was “never going to agree with any candidate on every issue.” Still, Seidel, who is also a senior adviser for the AFP super PAC backing Haley, said they shared a crucial goal in protecting Americans.

“We’re going to work with anyone where we agree, and where we disagree, we just hope that we can have a constructive and respectful dialogue to help get to a better place,” Seidel said. “On foreign policy, I think it’s fair to say we share the same goals. We want to keep Americans safe, we want to keep our troops out of harm’s way unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

But former operatives from Americans for Prosperity and other Koch-affiliated policy groups are publicly torching the move to back her, saying that it has diminished the group’s standing.

As the group started to see public criticism from those with ties to AFP, Seidel sent some AFP leaders an email about the overall response.

“Some of you may have seen some recent public posts from some colleagues who disagree with AFP Action’s endorsement,” Seidel wrote in the email. “I want to be clear: AFP respects the personal beliefs and opinions of all employees. Our culture benefits from a diversity of experiences and perspectives and that includes the freedom to support any political party or candidate in your personal capacity. At the same time, employees must be willing and able to perform the core responsibilities of their roles. We don’t normally comment on employment decisions, but given the public visibility and potential for misinterpretation, I thought it was important to make sure you and your teams understood that important distinction.”

Some critics believe that if Trump prevails in 2024, AFP’s endorsement risks driving the network’s influence into the ground, with people close to Trump saying they expect it to be a problem for them to have any future influence over his White House.

Though the Koch network had its differences with Trump when he was president, it supported legislation he signed, including a criminal justice reform bill called the First Step Act. Mark Holden, the chairman of the Americans for Prosperity board, attended at least one White House meeting in 2018 about changes that could be made to the criminal justice system before the bill was signed into law.

Marc Short, who served as chief of staff to then-Vice President Mike Pence after being a key leader in the Koch backed political network for years, explained that if the Haley endorsement has little impact on her campaign, Trump will see no need to work with Americans for Prosperity if he becomes president again.

“President Trump is always transactional. If Trump feels Koch moved the needle for Haley, he’ll have more interest in working with them. If the endorsement doesn’t make any impact, he will have less of an interest in engaging,” Short told NBC News.

“Trump is a grudge guy,” said a former Trump administration official who now has ties to the Koch network. “I’m not sure they fully understood the ramifications.”

“A lot of the proposals that they wanted to see, whether it was sentencing reform or the whole criminal justice area, certainly on the tax bill, they got. They had a lot of presence,” said another activist with a decades-long Koch affiliation. “In the event of a second Trump term, they get nothing.”

“Trump is pissed at anyone backing his opponents, particularly one who served in his administration. He never forgets — and he won’t forget this either,” another person close to Trump explained.

Already, Trump has lashed out at some of Haley’s prominent boosters, calling JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon an “overrated Globalist” on social media this week after the banking executive praised Haley.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com