The alliance between big business and the Republican Party, one of the oldest in US politics, is unusually fractured these days. The question is whether there will be a full unraveling.
There is enough evidence of a strained relationship. Florida Sen. Rick Scott, the current chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, unveiled his “Rescue America” policy plan earlier this year, accusing “most boardrooms” are now controlled by the “militant left.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has engaged in a public fight with Walt Disney Co. that resulted in the state revoking some of Disney’s long-held powers and tax benefits. Indiana Representative Jim Banks, a prospective 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 American corporations.”
This is clearly not the same Republican Party that nominated Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s proudly pro-business ticket just 10 years ago. But the shifting dynamic within the Republican Party 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 to make good business sense for large companies to avoid public involvement in political conflicts. But corporate leaders have faced increasing incentives to align themselves with left-of-center positions on issues of diversity and representation, while opposing Republican approaches to election management and vote counting.
Staffing these booths can attract potential customers among the young and well-educated, two economically lucrative demographics who are collectively ideologically left-leaning. Such attitudes also reduce the pressure on current or potential employees to resist the populist turn within American conservatism. Corporate leaders want their companies to be perceived as welcoming and inclusive workplaces for feminist women, racial minorities, LGBT communities, and other cultural progressives, and appear willing to risk angering traditionalist conservatives to achieve this.
The list of conservative complaints is growing rapidly. While Republicans have long complained about unfair treatment by major media and entertainment giants, they have now broadened this attack to include leading tech companies like Google and Facebook — particularly after Donald Trump’s ban from leading social media platforms in early 2021 due to diversity initiatives , the Black Lives Matter movement, legalized abortion and transgender rights have provoked accusations that big business is infected by the rampant “awakened left”. Congressional Republicans also remain dissatisfied with dozens of corporate political action committees that have publicly pledged to stop paying dues to members who voted against accepting the 2020 election results (although many have since rescinded those pledges).
So far, this newfound dissatisfaction among Republicans has been expressed mostly through combative rhetoric. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, for example, has denounced “weak corporate leaders” who “oversee nationless corporations that accumulate fortunes disconnected from the destiny of our great country.”
But more substantive forms of retaliation, like DeSantis punishing Disney, could become more common. Proposals requiring tech companies to limit the moderation of political content on social media have garnered support from Republican lawmakers at both the congressional and state levels. Republican congressmen have also threatened embarrassing public hearings or investigations into disadvantaged companies if they regain power next year.
At the same time, the new populist current in the Republican Party is characterized much more by a strong emphasis on nationalism and cultural nostalgia than a departure from traditional conservative economic doctrine. Executive branch officials have pursued deregulation and opposed union interests in the Trump administration as vigorously as they have during previous Republican presidencies, while an ambitious tax cut that was enacted represented Trump’s most important political 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 expand or further reduce the corporate tax cuts Trump has signed.
Republican politicians and conservative media figures have found a sympathetic audience for their attacks on the “awakening” in boardrooms. But as long as the party remains committed to conservative business ideas that benefit corporate results, the Republican alliance with business, battered as it may be, is unlikely to fall apart completely. Despite claims to the contrary, it’s not a divorce — it’s just a strained marriage.
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