Here's what it would take to get the Koch brothers' political arm behind Donald Trump

Story highlights

  • David Axelrod interviewed Tim Phillips, leader of the Koch brothers' political organization, for his podcast
  • Phillips talked about a wide range of issues, including the 2016 election

Editor's Note: The Axe Files, featuring David Axelrod, is a podcast distributed by CNN and produced at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. The author works at the institute.

Chicago (CNN)The leader of the Koch Brothers' powerful political arm says it would require dramatic changes in Donald Trump's approach to get the organization off the sidelines of the presidential race.

"We would need to see two things and they're straightforward things," Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, told David Axelrod on "The Axe Files," a podcast produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. "One is genuinely movement towards a more prosperity-focused free market vision on entitlement reform, government spending, government cronyism, trade. And two, a tone that is more uplifting. This isn't electoral advice, but we just tend to look at getting involved where there is more of an uplifting tone."
Phillips made his comments before Trump's salvos against U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel further roiled the campaign. But the AFP chief did respond to Trump's broadside against New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, the chair of the Republican Governors Association and a favorite among party conservatives.
    Tim Phillips on Capitol Hill
    "Gov. Martinez is someone we have a lot of respect for," Phillips said. "We urge every elected leader out there -- and every person who wants to be an elected leader -- to have a tone that's worthy of the nation that they're hoping to serve."
    Backed by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch, Americans for Prosperity has become in the last decade a major player in Republican politics, launching issue campaigns that have helped tip electoral races throughout the country.
    In 2012, AFP spent tens of millions of dollars to try to defeat Barack Obama, and were expected to play a major role in the 2016 campaign. But Phillips -- noting AFP's minimal involvement in the 2008 race -- says that the group is not automatically going to work on presidential races and suggested their attention today is focused on helping a handful of embattled Republicans in U.S. Senate races.
    "It's not a foregone conclusion that we're going to dive into every presidential race and at this point we're staying out," he said.
    To hear the whole conversation with Phillips, which also touched on his own route to prominence and the role of undisclosed "dark money" in funding campaigns, click on To get "The Axe Files" podcast every week, subscribe at