By David A. Hopkins
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 dismantling.
There is plenty of evidence of a strained relationship. Senator Rick Scott of Florida, the current chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee, introduced his “Rescue America” policy plan earlier this year with the accusation that “most corporate boards” are now controlled by the “militant left”. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has engaged in a public battle with the Walt Disney Co. that has resulted in the state revoking some of Disney’s longstanding tax powers and benefits. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, a potential member of the House Republican leadership in the next session of Congress, recently said Republicans are “so much healthier now that we’ve separated from corporate America.”
Clearly, this isn’t the same Republican Party that named the proudly pro-business ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan just 10 years ago. But the changing dynamic within the GOP is only half the story. The behavior of the corporate sector is also changing – and the rise of conservative populism has accelerated this change.
In the past, it seemed smart for big business to avoid public entanglement in political disputes. But business leaders have been increasingly pressured to align themselves with center-left positions on issues of social diversity and representation, while opposing Republican approaches to election management and counting. votes.
Taking these positions can attract potential clients among the young and well-educated, two economically lucrative demographics who collectively lean to the ideological left. Such positions also lessen the pressure exerted by current or potential employees to oppose the populist turn of American conservatism. Business leaders want their companies to be seen as welcoming and inclusive workplaces for feminist women, racial minorities, LGBT communities and other cultural progressives, and seem willing to risk alienating traditionalist conservatives to achieve this.
The list of Conservative grievances is growing rapidly. While Republicans have long complained of unfair treatment by major media and entertainment conglomerates, they have now extended that attack to include top tech companies such as Google and Facebook – especially after Donald Trump was banned from major social media platforms in early 2021. diversity initiatives, the Black Lives Matter movement, legalized abortion and transgender rights prompted the accusation that big business is infected with “woke leftism endemic. Congressional Republicans also remain unhappy with dozens of corporate political action committees that have publicly promised to stop contributing to members who voted against accepting the 2020 election results (though many have since reneged on those promises). .
So far, this new Republican disaffection has been expressed mainly through combative rhetoric. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, for example, denounced “weak business leaders” who oversee “nationless corporations that amass fortunes separate from the destiny of our great country.”
But more substantial forms of retribution, such as Disney being punished by DeSantis, could become more common. Proposals requiring tech companies to limit moderation of political content on social media have won support from Republican lawmakers at the congressional and state levels. Republican members of Congress have also threatened embarrassing public hearings or investigations targeting disadvantaged businesses if they return to power next year.
At the same time, the new populist streak in the GOP stands out far more for its heavy emphasis on nationalism and cultural nostalgia than for any move away from traditional conservative economic doctrine. Executive appointees have pursued deregulation and opposed union interests with as much vigor in the Trump administration as they have in previous Republican presidencies, while an ambitious reduction in enacted tax represented Trump’s main political achievement in office. Despite Republicans’ growing tendency to fire rhetorical and even legislative fire at corporations seen as adversaries in the ongoing culture war, they remain committed to expanding or further reducing the corporate tax cuts Trump has enacted.
Republican politicians and conservative media personalities have found a sympathetic grassroots audience for their attacks on “waking up” in executive suites. But as long as the party remains committed to conservative economic ideas that benefit corporate bottom lines, the Republican alliance with business, even if shattered, is in no danger of completely collapsing. 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.”