Koch-Backed AFP Backs Nikki Haley for President in Massive Setback for Ron DeSantis

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley campaigns on Wednesday in Bedford, NH. (Phot
Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

The Charles Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity Action (AFP) is backing former Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) in the GOP presidential primary, marking a significant setback for Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), whose campaign griped over the move. 

ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent Jonatan Karl first reported the news in a tweet Tuesday morning, which was quickly followed by a report from his outlet. 

Karl noted the group “planned to spend tens of millions to try to defeat Trump in the primaries,” meaning the anti-Trump GOP donors are starting to pick sides between the two candidates leading the race for second place with the Iowa Caucuses a month and a half away. 

According to the ABC News report, AFP CEO Emily Seidel wrote in a memo the organization circulated that Haley gives “America the opportunity to turn the page on the current political era.”

Karl tweeted two quotes from the AFP, founded by establishment conservative mega-donors Charles Koch and his late brother David Koch. However, the quotes are not attributed to a public statement, and they could be from the memo; it is unclear. 

“Our internal polling confirms what our activists are hearing and seeing from voters in the early primary states: Nikki Haley is in the best position to defeat Donald Trump in the primaries,” Karl quoted AFP in one tweet. 

An AFP Polling memo dated November 28 shows Haley in second place in New Hampshire and Iowa in polls conducted in November. 

In New Hampshire, Trump leads the way with 40 percent while Haley comes in second at 25 percent – one of the best, if not the best, of her results in a poll to date. DeSantis is 16 points back at 9 percent. In other words, the gap between Haley and Trump is smaller than the margin between her and DeSantis. 

In Iowa, where DeSantis has focused a lot of his resources in recent months, she holds a narrow lead over the Florida governor at 17 percent to 16 percent. Trump handily leads the pack with 44 percent of support. 

The memo did not specify field dates, sample sizes, or margins of error. 

In another quote shared by Karl, AFP Action wrote it “has never engaged in a presidential election before, but as we said in February, to write a new chapter for our country, we need to turn the page on the past.”

“Donald Trump and Joe Biden will only further perpetuate the country’s downward spiral in politics,” it continued. 

Haley expressed her gratitude to AFP Action in a press release.

“I’m honored to have the support of Americans for Prosperity Action, including its millions of grassroots members all across the country. AFP Action’s members know that there is too much at stake in this election to sit on the sidelines,” Haley said. 

“This is a choice between freedom and socialism, individual liberty and big government, fiscal responsibility, and spiraling debt. We have a country to save, and I’m grateful to have AFP Action by our side,” she added. 

While support from Koch and his mega-donor network is undoubtedly welcome news to Haley, who has caught DeSantis in many polls in what is shaping up to be a two-way race for second place, it is surely unsettling news for the DeSantis campaign, which has had a monumental collapse in polling since the spring.

In a press release, DeSantis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo sarcastically congratulated Trump as the true beneficiary of the endorsement: 

Congratulations to Donald Trump 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 of defeating the former president. 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.

DeSantis has seen his coalition of moderate Republicans and once-disaffected MAGA voters fracture as Trump has re-coalesced his base to where it is perhaps more potent than ever, and Haley and former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), who offer stauncher alternatives for moderates, seem to have locked up much of the never Trump vote. At the same time, DeSantis has also had to grapple with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy for populist Republicans who do not see Trump as their top choice. 


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