Reid accused the brothers, whose last name is pronounced “coke,” of using their power and influence to push harmful conservative policies by backing Republican candidates and spending $30 million already in television ads in competitive congressional districts.
Many of those ads were financed by the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity advocacy group and are highly critical of the Affordable Care Act.
“Right now, because of people like the two brothers, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is getting squeezed out of existence,” Reid said. “They’re against everything that’s good for America today.”
Democratic leaders said Reid’s attacks raised the public profile of the press-shy Koch brothers and presented them as villains to voters who believe the system is rigged in favor of the super-rich.
“Part of responding to these attacks that the Koch brothers are spending millions upon millions on is to make sure the voters understand who is behind them, and what’s behind them,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster. “And our research has shown pretty clearly that once voters recognize the source of the attacks, they tend to discount them substantially.”
Garin said his research in 2012 showed that Democratic voters had an “overwhelming negative” response to the Kochs and their political involvement.
But MSNBC host Joe Scarborough had his own overwhelmingly negative reaction Thursday morning to Reid’s remarks, noting the Kochs’ charitable contributions to cancer research and the arts.
“That’s all they have? Wow,” Scarborough said. “That’s an idiotic move. Not a stupid move, but an idiotic move.”
He bristled at Reid’s portrayal of the Kochs as “un-American,” saying the claim amounted to “McCarthyism” and calling on Democrats to also mention the industrialists’ considerable non-political expenditures.
“Tell the truth about them and what they do, and put some perspective in it,” Scarborough said. “Because if we’re talking about perspective on how much the Koch brothers give, these, quote, ‘villains,’ it’s unbelievable what they’ve done for cancer research, what they’ve done for the arts, what they’ve done for education.”
Panelist Willie Geist also panned Reid’s remarks.
“I’m not here to defend the Koch brothers, but I would just say for the Senate Majority leader to say that Republicans are ‘addicted to Koch,’ that seems a little beneath the office,” Geist said.
Harold Ford, a former Democratic congressman from Tennessee and former chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, called Reid’s comments “out of line.”
“There’s no need for that kind of vitriol,” Ford said. “The Koch brothers, I don’t share their political agenda, but at the same time, they have every right to spend their money as they choose, and I have every right to try to counter that with what I believe are strong, positive political messages.”
A spokesman for the Kochs said the senate majority leader was attacking the brothers as a distraction.
“Attacking Koch is nothing new and appears to happen whenever Senator Reid and the Democratic leadership want to distract voters from their abysmal record and failure to meaningfully address the issues in this country,” said Robert A. Tappan, a spokesman for Koch Industries. “Congress has a 13 percent approval rating for a reason. We are confident Americans will see through this tactic.”
Republicans dismissed the senator’s comments as “howling at the moon.”
“The reality is that he is powerless to stop millions of Americans from watching ads that tell the personal stories of real people who have been hurt by Obamacare,” said Ryan Williams, a GOP strategist. “He’s basically spitting in the ocean and fooling himself into thinking that he’s making waves.”
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