Politics

Why Republicans Are Pretending to Hate Corporate America Now

The party of big business starts yelling at big business.

A man wearing a face mask opens a door to let in McConnell and another man, both of whom are wearing face masks. A U.S. flag is seen in the foreground.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks through U.S. Capitol on March 23. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

On Saturday, former President Donald Trump released a statement through his political action committee urging “Republicans and Conservatives to fight back” against the corporate entities that have spoken out against the party’s new raft of state bills and laws to restrict voting rights. He cast a broad net, calling for boycotts on “Major League Baseball (MLB), Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, UPS, and Merck,” and urging supporters, “don’t go back to their products until they relent.” He threw in a reiteration that the 2020 election was stolen from him, again, for good measure.

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While Trump’s baseless howling about the “stolen election” is a point of discomfort for many other top elected Republicans, the party has had no problem harnessing the energy from that rage to tighten up voting restrictions. And Major League Baseball’s announcement last week that it was pulling the All-Star Game from the Atlanta area has united the party in defense of its state-by-state voting-law push and against the “woke” turn from corporate America.

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, still trying to restore his credibility among the Republican base after Trump’s postelection attacks on him, said that Major League Baseball “caved to fears and lies from liberal activists.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott opted against throwing the first pitch at a Texas Rangers game, saying he wouldn’t “participate in an event held by MLB.” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the master of performing a symbolic gesture here or there against corporate America in his latest rebrand as a tribune of the working class, has called on MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to ditch his membership to Augusta National if he’s truly committed to pressuring Georgia. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton has observed that corporate America seems far less concerned about the human rights abuses by their business partners in China than they do about those in Georgia. A group of senators is engaging in the ritual, go-nowhere exercise of drafting legislation to take away a sports league’s antitrust exemption when it does something they don’t like.

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But more notable than these scattered displays of anger were choice words from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about the corporate environment more broadly. “From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government,” McConnell said in a statement on Monday. “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order.”

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The floating of “consequences” for private corporations, as they make what they believe to be revenue-maximizing decisions, is new turf for the Republican leader—and for a party whose flirtations with corporate accountability have been limited to, say, a president wanting to strip tech platforms’ legal protections because they appended fact-checks to his missives.

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Even the use of corporate as a dirty word from Republicans is a recent development, and the pushback from Delta, MLB, Coca-Cola and others against the Georgia voting law is the latest in a string of incidents that have frayed the relationship between Republicans and corporate America. Democrats dominated in “dark money” spending in the 2020 election, and various corporations adopted a donation freeze after the pro-Trump Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. The Chamber of Commerce, the business trade group that was once one of the GOP’s most powerful outside supporters, endorsed dozens of Democrats in the 2020 election and appears to be, politically, up for grabs. This all comes amid a changing electorate in which Democrats have been accruing more upscale voters while Republicans orient their messaging around a distrust of powerful institutions that’s supposed to appeal to the working class.

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Congress itself is always a little behind on the news, and Republicans’ most powerful senior elected legislators are still traditional, pro-business movement conservatives. But Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, the newly installed chairman of the Republican Study Committee, has been urging the party to complete its transformation and run with the “gift” that Donald Trump “gave the Republican Party”: to “permanently become the Party of the Working Class.”

In a recent memo to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Banks wrote that Republicans needed to embrace the framework Trump brought to the fore of the party: hard opposition to both “illegal immigration and increased legal immigration,” free trade skepticism, “anti-wokeness,” and opposition to corporate entities “whose leadership has decided to wage culture war against working-class values.” In that last line, Banks was quoting Rubio’s op-ed explaining why he supported Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama trying to form a union.

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The Rubio op-ed, much like what we’ve seen of this nascent Republican pussyfooting with taking on corporate America, was ridiculous. He doesn’t like Amazon’s cultural politics and doesn’t like Jeff Bezos, and so he supports this one bargaining unit’s efforts to organize at this one corporation. That’s not a labor policy, and he shares no thoughts on other pressing federal issues swirling around Amazon, like its negligible tax contributions.

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If Republicans want to array themselves as the anti-corporate party, it takes more than op-ed potshots complaining about how a hypothetical multinational company bowed to woke leftists by scrapping, say, its ketchup brand’s racist mascot. And there are some policy opportunities afoot for Republicans to demonstrate a more meaningful break from corporate America’s ownership of the party.

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Unfortunately, those policies would require them to work with Joe Biden. The president, for example, has proposed a broad, multitrillion-dollar infrastructure plan to be paid for by a partial rollback of the corporate tax rate that Republicans instituted in 2017, a doubling of the corporate minimum tax Republicans instituted, and a crackdown on international tax havens. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, meanwhile, is working with allies to create a global minimum corporate tax rate to stop the “race to the bottom” among countries seeking to lure corporations. The Biden administration, separately, is looking to pass a law increasing the federal minimum wage for workers, a change that hasn’t been made in 14 years due to complete Republican opposition. And if Republicans want to show that they’re ready to break the backs of corporate monopolies that are using their leverage to wage culture war, they could support some of Biden’s more adversarial nominees for Senate confirmation.

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With a few strays here or there, Republicans in Congress won’t go along with any of this, not only out of a distaste for working with Democrats, but because they don’t believe in what it’s all meant to accomplish. They’re still wedded to supply-side economics and the conservative movement, even after Trump showed how flexible Republican base voters are in their dedication to small government and free markets. And while it’s a notable change that they’re allowing themselves to yell at major corporations—job creators!—they’ve restricted that yelling to the culture war. Large corporations don’t mind throwing liberals a social-justice PR bone because they know that Republicans will always be there to protect their economic interests. When Republicans decide to break that link, then we can have a real conversation about the war between them and corporate America.

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