Will Republicans and Big Business Break Up?


The alliance between big business and one of the oldest Republicans in American politics has been unusually frayed of late. The question is whether it will be completely unraveled.

There is ample evidence that the relationship is strained. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the current chairman of the National Republican Senate Committee, introduced his “Save America” ​​policy plan earlier this year, accusing “the majority of corporate boards” that are now controlled by the “radical left.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has launched a public fight with The Walt Disney Company. That led the state to revoke some of Disney’s longstanding powers and tax benefits. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, a potential member of the House Republican leadership in the next Congress, said recently that Republicans are “much healthier now because we’ve disengaged from corporate America. “

Clearly, this is not the same Republican Party that nominated Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan for the proud business-friendly vote 10 years ago. But the dynamics within the Republican Party are only half the story. Behaviour in the corporate sector is also changing – a change accelerated by the rise of conservative populism.

It used to seem like good business sense for big companies to avoid public involvement in political conflict. But corporate leaders face increasing incentives to align with center-left positions on issues of social diversity and representation, while opposing Republican approaches to election management and vote counting.

Taking these positions could attract young and well-educated potential clients, two economically lucrative demographic groups that share a tendency to the ideological left. This stance also eases pressure from current or future employees against a populist turn within American conservatism. Business executives want their companies to be seen as welcoming workplaces for feminist women, minorities, the LGBT community and other culturally progressive people, and seem willing to risk alienating traditional conservatives to do so.

The list of conservative disaffected is growing rapidly. While Republicans have long complained about unfair treatment by major media and entertainment groups, they have now expanded the attack to include leading tech companies such as Google and Facebook — especially after Donald Trump’s announcement in early 2021 After being banned from top social media platforms. Diversity initiatives, the Black Lives Matter movement, decriminalized abortion and transgender rights have fueled allegations that big business is infected by a rampant “awakened left.” Congressional Republicans are also unhappy with dozens of corporate political action committees that have publicly pledged to stop donating to members who voted against accepting the 2020 election results (though many have since backtracked on those pledges).

So far, this newfound GOP dissatisfaction has been expressed mostly through combative rhetoric. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, for example, denounced “weak corporate leaders” who oversee “stateless, wealth-accumulating businesses that are out of touch with the fate of our great nation.”

But more substantial forms of retaliation, such as DeSantis’ punishment of Disney, could become more common. A proposal to require tech companies to limit moderation of political content on social media has gained support from Republican lawmakers at both the congressional and state levels. Republicans in Congress have also threatened embarrassing public hearings or investigations into unpopular companies if they return to power next year.

At the same time, the new populist trend in the Republican Party stands out for its strong emphasis on nationalism and cultural nostalgia, rather than any movement away from traditional conservative economism. Executive branch appointees pursue deregulation and oppose union interests in the Trump administration, as they did under previous Republican presidents, and the ambitious tax cut bill represents a major focus of Trump’s presidency. policy achievements. While Republicans are increasingly leaning toward rhetorical and even legislative bashing of companies seen as adversaries in the ongoing culture war, they remain committed to expanding or further reducing the corporate tax cuts Trump signed into law.

Republican politicians and conservative media figures have gained a sympathetic mass audience for attacking “awakening” in the executive suite. But as long as the party remains committed to conservative economic ideas that benefit the bottom line of business, the GOP-business alliance is unlikely to collapse completely, no matter how hard it takes. Despite claims to the contrary, this isn’t a divorce – it’s just a strained marriage.

More from Bloomberg Views:

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• Democrats are catching up to the midterms: Matthew Iglesias

• November fiasco will help Democrats: Clive Crook

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

David A. Hopkins is an associate professor of political science at Boston College and the author of Red vs. Blue: How Geography and Election Rules Are Polarizing American Politics.

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