"I'm Tired of America Wasting Our Blood and Treasure": The Strange Ascent of Betsy DeVos and Erik Prince - 2018-09-06
In the solar system of elite Republican contributors, Richard DeVos Sr., who died Thursday at age 92—one of the two founders of Amway, the direct-sale colossus—occupied an exalted place, and his offspring did too. Since the 1970s, members of the DeVos family had given as much as $200 million to the G.O.P. and been tireless promoters of the modern conservative movement—its ideas, its policies, and its crusades combining free-market economics, a push for privatization of many government functions, and Christian social values. While other far-right mega-donors may have become better known over the years (the Coorses and the Kochs, Sheldon Adelson and the Mercers), Michigan's DeVos dynasty stands apart—for the duration, range, and depth of its influence.
Start with the think tanks, advocacy organizations, and colleges. In the Grand Rapids area alone there are three conservative academic bastions: Grand Valley State University; Calvin College, attended by several generations of DeVoses, including Rich's daughter-in-law Betsy DeVos, 60, who is now Trump's secretary of education; and Northwood University, her husband Dick's alma mater. The DeVoses are also major backers of Hillsdale, the libertarian-plus-Christian liberal-arts college in southern Michigan. One celebrated alum: Betsy DeVos's brother, Erik Prince, 49, the swashbuckling military contractor who has come to the serious attention of investigators looking into the Trump team's alleged dealings with Russia. Other recipients of DeVos largesse: the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Justice, and the American Enterprise Institute—the list goes on.
The DeVoses don't limit their activism to ideas. They have been enthusiastic supporters of Republican presidential nominees—from Gerald Ford to Mitt Romney, who also has deep Michigan roots. But 2016 changed everything. Betsy, the most visible member of the clan, had been close to former Florida governor Jeb Bush; the two shared a passion for remaking public-school education. When Bush dropped out of the race, she switched over to Florida senator Marco Rubio. She also wrote checks for Carly Fiorina, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal—everyone, anyone, but Donald Trump. "I'm hopeful we are going to hear something from our nominee to convince me that I should support him," she declared at the time.