April 21, 2021

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Republicans’ fake crusade against corporate power

5 min read

Republican politicians are not happy with their erstwhile best friends, large corporations. In the wake of a Georgia election law plainly intended to make it harder for Democrats to win elections in the state, a number of big companies criticized the move. Delta and Coca-Cola issued statements condemning the law, and Major League Baseball moved its All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver in protest.

In response, Republicans have lashed out against so-called “woke corporations” and threatened to harm their bottom lines. Georgia Republicans tried to repeal a fuel tax break that benefits Delta, and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) suggested repealing MLB’s anti-trust exemption. Some in the media have begun to speculate whether this is a “seismic shift” in the GOP’s relationship with big business, as if they are jilted lovers. The “GOP and corporate America are breaking up,” suggests CNN. It’s a “nasty breakup,” says Bloomberg.

But there is every reason to doubt that this represents a genuine turn against corporate power as such. Republicans are mad that corporate elites are not backing their anti-democracy schemes. The intent is not to reduce the power and wealth of the corporate sector, but to bring it back in line with their own partisan interests once more.

It’s important to be clear about why the new Georgia elections law passed: because Joe Biden won the presidential election there, and Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won the Georgia Senate runoffs in January. As Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein write at The New York Times, the law will drastically cut back on absentee voting, reduce early voting in urban areas while expanding it in rural ones, sharply cut the number of vote drop boxes, and all but eliminate mobile voting centers, among other things. Offering food or water to people in line to vote is now a crime.

Now, it’s possible that the new law may not actually have the intended effect, as Nate Cohn argues in a strained contrarian piece at the Times. The Democratic base is much more suburban and highly educated than it once was, and this suppression law might even conceivably backfire on Republicans. But it beggars belief to think that Republicans don’t have malign intentions here. There was no fraud or any other problem that would justify all these restrictive provisions, most of which are aimed squarely at Democratic constituencies (above all Black voters, as Jamelle Bouie argues at the Times). Whatever the effect, let’s not be children about what the GOP is trying to do.

As they have been doing for years now, Republicans responded to electoral defeat not by re-calibrating their positions to be more popular, but by trying to cheat. In this they are following the lead of Donald Trump, who tried to bully Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into overturning the 2020 election results. “All I want to do is this,” Trump told Raffensperger on a phone call. “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state.” When that didn’t work, Trump tried a straight-up putsch.

Most ominous of all are the provisions that put election administration into the hands of Republican Party officials. The Georgia secretary of state is now removed from the State Elections Board (an obvious punishment for refusing to steal the election for Trump), and the board is placed under the control of the legislature, which also now has the power to suspend county election officials. Even Cohn admits that these measures create “new avenues for partisan interference in election administration.” Voter turnout doesn’t matter if Republican apparatchiks simply fiddle with the vote totals.

All this puts the retaliatory actions proposed by Republicans against the dissenting corporations into sharper focus. Every suggestion so far has been narrowly targeted at the specific companies that dared to speak the obvious truth about what the GOP is trying to do. Republicans have not suggested any kind of sweeping campaign finance reform to get corporate money out of politics. Nor have they expressed any support for raising the corporate income tax, as President Biden is proposing to do right now. (On the contrary, as Greg Sargent writes at The Washington Post, congressional Republicans are signaling lockstep opposition.) Nor have we heard a whisper about the PRO Act that is currently before Congress, which would make it dramatically easier for workers to organize a union and hence cut down on the power of corporate executives.

One cannot possibly imagine a less credible messenger for the statement “My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics. Don’t pick sides in these big fights,” than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a man who has done more than anyone in American history to increase the wealth, power, and political influence of the corporate elite. He just takes it for granted that corporate influence and money should be in his party’s pocket, no matter what it does.

It’s not quite clear why these businesses have chosen to speak out against the Georgia law. The presence of Black executives seems to have something to do with it. Companies are also no doubt worried about their brand image in an age when the bulk of consumers, and especially the profitable youth demographic, have left-leaning opinions. They might even be worried that Republicans attempting to set up one-party rule could lead to violent civil conflict that undermines the political system — all corporations, after all, depend on stable government to exist in the first place.

Whatever the reasoning, it’s a safe bet that these businesses are hoping they can get away with a few anodyne statements and/or symbolic actions, the whole thing will eventually blow over, and they can get back to treating red states as their corporate fiefs. But it might not be so easy. If Republicans are willing to cheat elections, they might — driven by the usual right-wing media frenzy — actually punish specific corporations who step out of line. Business may be driven into the arms of the Democrats, where (alas) they will probably find a sympathetic hearing. Or, more plausibly, these companies will simply wait awhile and then resume their usual contributions to Republicans, which have been flowing for years despite hundreds of previous cases of naked voter suppression.

Either way, a consistent Republican push against the political power of big corporations is not at present on the horizon.


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