Commentary: Are Republicans and big business headed for a breakup?

By David A. Hopkins

Bloomberg opinion

The alliance between big business and the Republican Party, one of the oldest in American politics, is unusually frayed these days. The question is whether there will be a complete resolution.

There is plenty of evidence of a strained relationship. Late. Rick Scott of Florida, the current chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, unveiled his “Rescue America” ​​policy plan earlier this year with the charge that “most corporate boardrooms” are now controlled by the “militant left.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has engaged in a public battle with the Walt Disney Co. which led the state to revoke some of Disney’s longstanding powers and tax benefits. Representative Jim Banks of Indiana, a potential member of the House Republican leadership in the next session of Congress, recently said that Republicans are “so much healthier now that we’ve separated from corporate America.”

Clearly, this is not the same Republican Party that nominated the proud pro-business ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan just 10 years ago. But the shifting dynamics within the GOP are only half the story. The behavior of the corporate sector is also changing – and the rise of conservative populism has accelerated this change.

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It once seemed to make good business sense for large corporations to avoid public involvement in political conflicts. But business leaders have faced increasing incentives to align themselves with left-of-center positions on issues of social diversity and representation, while opposing Republican strategies for election management and vote counting.

Taking these positions could attract potential customers among the young and educated, two economically lucrative demographic groups that collectively lean to the ideological left. Such stances also ease the pressure on current or prospective employees to oppose the populist turn within American conservatism. Business leaders want their companies to be perceived as welcoming and inclusive workplaces for feminist women, racial minorities, LGBT groups and other cultural progressives, and seem willing to risk alienating traditional conservatives to achieve it.

The list of conservative complaints is growing quickly. While Republicans have long complained about the unfair treatment of large media and entertainment conglomerates, they have now expanded this attack to include leading tech companies like Google and Facebook — especially after Donald Trump was banned from the top social media platforms in early 2021. Business Recommendations of diversity initiatives, the Black Lives Matter movement, legalized abortion and transgender rights have prompted the charge that big business is infected by rampant “woke leftism.” Congressional Republicans also remain unhappy about the dozens of corporate political action committees that publicly pledged to stop contributing to members who voted against accepting the 2020 election results (though many have since reneged on those pledges).

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So far, this newfound Republican discontent has mostly been expressed through combative rhetoric. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, has denounced “weak business leaders” who oversee “stateless corporations that amass fortunes divorced from the destiny of our great country.”

But more material forms of retaliation, like DeSanti’s punishment of Disney, may become more common. Proposals requiring tech companies to limit moderation of political content on social media have gained support among Republican lawmakers at both the congressional and state levels. Republican members of Congress have also threatened embarrassing public hearings or investigations targeting disadvantaged companies if they take back power next year.

Meanwhile, the new populist trend in the GOP is characterized far more by its strong emphasis on nationalism and cultural nostalgia than by any movement away from traditional conservative economic doctrine. Executive branch appointees pushed for deregulation and opposed union interests as vigorously in the Trump administration as they did under previous Republican presidencies, while an ambitious tax cut enacted represented Trump’s main policy achievement in office. Despite Republicans’ increasing tendency to direct rhetorical and even legislative fire at companies seen as adversaries in the ongoing culture war, they remain determined to extend or further reduce the corporate tax cuts Trump signed into law.

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Republican politicians and conservative media figures have found a sympathetic popular audience for their attacks on “vigilance” in the executive suites. But as long as the party remains committed to conservative economic ideas that favor corporate bottom lines, the Republican alliance with business, however battered, is unlikely to fall apart entirely. Despite claims to the contrary, it’s not a divorce – it’s just a strained marriage.

David A. Hopkins is associate professor of political science at Boston College and author of “Red Fighting Blue: How Geography and Electoral Rules Polarize American Politics.”


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