Politics Republicans Can Talk Tough About ‘Woke’ Corporations—and That’s About It
Corporate America's Love Affair With the GOP Is Alive and Well | Opinion
Corporations can and should bankroll much of what America needs. But they won't as long as corporations keep bankrolling American politicians. Robert B. Reich is an American political commentator, professor and author. He served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Reich's latest book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now.The views in this article are the writer's own.
When Major League Baseballout of Atlanta, Republicans reacted with ominous warnings, , and a specific threat.
“In light of @MLB’s stance to undermine election integrity laws,” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC)last week, “I have instructed my staff to begin drafting legislation to remove Major League Baseball’s federal antitrust exception.”
Duncan’s proposal stands almost no chance of becoming law, but Republicans have good reason to be concerned—corporate boycotts, like the ones in Georgia now, have worked before. Over the last decade, they’ve helpedand Indiana. And just this year, the threat of boycotts could help temper an anti-trans law in South Dakota.
Democrats see political winner in tax fight
As President Biden races ahead with a mammoth plan to bolster the nation's infrastructure, Democrats are gambling they'll get a political boost from an accompanying proposal: the tax hikes designed to defray the massive costs.Biden on Wednesday outlined a slate of tax reforms aimed at raising $2.5 trillion - much of it from large corporations - to underwrite the new infrastructure spending. The proposal was quickly roasted by Republicans, who have long portrayed Democrats as the party of higher taxes and are now warning that Biden's plan would hurt small businesses and kill American jobs.
All the while, there’s been only modest blowback for the businesses standing up to politicians.
“Corporations are people, these are your constituents,” said one Republican strategist, invoking an infamous line from now Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “You aren’t going to punish successful businesses in your state or congressional district.”
But as the MLB and major employers in Georgia likecome out against a Georgia law imposing all sorts of restrictions on voting in the state, Republicans are struggling to figure out how they keep businesses in line.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) warned of “” if the private sector kept “behaving like a woke parallel government.” But he didn’t even have a chance to clarify what those consequences would be before he was his comments.
Corporate America is still dangerously delusional about what the GOP has become
The party of big business has taken to policing corporate America's speech now, and that's not going to change anytime soon.Boehner was perhaps the last leader of a now-dead Republican party we used to know. The one that was born during the Reagan years. The GOP that kept its hands out of the affairs of private enterprise, that championed free speech, that knew how to cut a deal, that you might want to have a glass of Merlot and a cigar with - that GOP's gone.
“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday,” McConnell said Wednesday. A day after advising businesses to “stay the hell out of politics,” McConnell said corporations were “certainly entitled to be in politics.”
Republicans can talk tough about corporations siding against them, but the reality is, that’s really all they can do. As McConnell demonstrated, even that game is delicate. And while corporations don’t want to alienate half of their consumer base by coming out against a partisan law, Republicans don’t want to ostracize big business.
“In reality, it’s nearly impossible for a prominent lawmaker to be at odds with a major corporation operating in their state or district, simply because those companies employ thousands of their constituents,” said Republican strategist Lauren Zelt.
Politicians shy away from punishing corporations that provide jobs to their voters, Zelt said, leaving them with “very little actual agency” to challenge corporate policies.
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“Which is why more companies are choosing to make statements at important junctures in our collective history,” Zelt said.
Businesses are seeing that the greater risk to their bottom lines is saying nothing. Delta (“”) and Coca-Cola (“ ”) only spoke out against the Georgia voting law after consumers pressured them to do so. But the very fact that businesses see inaction as the greater danger speaks to the current climate, where a corporate conscience is a strength and not a liability.
Still, Republicans have had little issue with dismissing public outrage as coming from the “woke mob” and just pressing ahead with their agenda. But they should be careful—in recent history, that attitude has been the one fraught with risk, not the position that corporations ought to speak out against broadly unpopular laws.
In North Carolina, politicians are still feeling the effects of the so-called 2016 “bathroom bill,” which only allowed people to enter restrooms that corresponded with the gender that was listed on their birth certificate.
A Crazed GOP Wants to Cancel Baseball, Coke and Big Business
What’s left after the GOP cancels itself? You could get whiplash trying to track conservatives’ hypocritical mental gymnastics, but there is a common theme: Conservatives believe in a one-way relationship with America where their terms reign supreme. Our role is to submit or face cancellation. Incredibly, the party that continually whines about “cancel culture” while at the same time practicing it is now on the verge of self-cancellation after turning on the big business allies it’s historically united with to push tax breaks, de-regulation, and the “creative” destruction of the unchecked “free market.
Sam Spencer—a North Carolina Democratic operative who was the campaign manager for the former mayor of Charlotte, Jennifer Roberts—recalled to The Daily Beast a city meeting in 2015 discussing a similar ordinance, this time to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. According to Spencer, there were about 150 people in line to speak, and as the 23rd in the queue, he was the first to voice support for the measure.
Spencer said Republicans like then-Gov. Pat McCrory thought the transgender bathroom issue was going to be a political winner for them. But once corporations and sports organizations started coming out against the legislation, pulling business and events from North Carolina, “it very quickly became his Achilles’ heel.”
Businesses likeand halted planned expansions in the state. The NBA pulled the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte. And the NCAA took away seven upcoming tournaments from North Carolina.
found that, in just one year, the bathroom bill cost the state roughly $500 million, and would have cost the state an estimated in 12 years.
But Spencer said the psychological impact for North Carolina was much greater than the economic one, particularly because it thinks of itself as a basketball state, if not the state for college basketball.
The Fake Republican Fight With Corporate America
Stick it to Big Business by … keeping its taxes low.After the CEO of Atlanta-based Delta Airlines denounced the vote-suppression measure, Republicans in the state’s lower chamber retaliated by voting to repeal a tax break the airline enjoyed. The state senate failed to pass it, leaving the vote as a warning that House Speaker David Ralston made explicit: “You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
In the end, voters didn’t punish the corporations who stood up to the law; they punished the politicians. McCrory became the first incumbent governor to lose an election in North Carolina since 1892, and voters displayed similar dissatisfaction with other Republicans, even voting out some incumbent Democrats just for good measure.
“A lot of Charlotte voters became Mercutio voters,” Spencer said, invoking Shakespeare, “like, ‘A plague on both your houses.’”
In Indiana, the reaction to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was just as severe. As opponents pointed out, the law allowed businesses to deny services to the LGBT community. And after then-Gov. Mike Pence signed RFRA, corporations immediately started coming out against it.
Some major conventions, likeand one for , threatened to pull out of the state. The NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, issued statements about its concerns. And a number of organizations began to #BoycottIndiana, including the band Wilco and four states whose governors said they would no longer allow taxpayer-funded travel to Indiana.
One PR professional in the state who has worked for Indiana Republicans before told The Daily Beast that Pence,, tried to push past the outrage. But ultimately, the consequences were too steep.
Just a few months after signing the bill—and after—Pence caved. He signed a “fix” bill making it clear that the earlier legislation couldn’t be used to discriminate against LGBT people.
Mitch McConnell Tries to Have it Both Ways on Corporate Cash
Mitch McConnell Tries to Have it Both Ways on Corporate CashI thought Twitter had to have it wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time the partisan corners of social media had taken something out of context or intentionally left out part of the statement. There was absolutely no way Senate Republicans’ chief Mitch McConnell had told corporations to stay out of politics — but that they should please keep sending checks to political organs, thank you very much.
But not all Republican governors have thrown caution to the wind.
Just this year, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has soughtin her state. Initially, Noem expressed support for the legislation. But after businesses and more than 500 NCAA student-athletes signaled opposition, Noem saw the writing on the wall and refused to sign the measure that landed on her desk. And in Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill banning gender-affirming surgery for transgender youth. (The Arkansas legislature went ahead and voted to override his veto.)
Veto overrides notwithstanding, the political pressure and the boycotts are working. Corporations are often coming out of these situations looking pretty good, and the politicians aren’t.
Still, in Georgia, the politics may be murkier.
The controversy there is over a partisan voting rights bill, not an anti-LGBT bill, and the reactions
Another key difference between Georgia and some of these other states is timing. There’s a bit of a buffer now for Republicans in the Peach State. Lawmakers have already left the statehouse and won’t face an election for nearly two years.
As the PR professional in Indiana noted, when Pence signed RFRA, lawmakers there were still in session. The political pressure to change the law was immediate, and Indiana Republicans had to face reporters almost every day and respond to the latest corporate statement.
In Georgia, this source said, “They can just sit there and go, ‘Well, we can’t do anything until next year,’ and just hope it dies.”
And perhaps the biggest difference is that, at this point, it’s not clear whether the law will be a political liability for Republicans in Georgia. For Gov. Brian Kemp, it may actually save him, after he refused to help President Trump overturn election results in his state and angered Trump’s most loyal followers.
The voting law may still ultimately cost Kemp his job in the 2022 election, but it probably helps him survive the GOP primary, even if the former president made clear it still wasn’t going to be enough to win back his support.
"Georgia’s election reform law is far too weak and soft to ensure real ballot integrity," Trump said in a statement on Tuesday. “Boycott all the woke companies that don’t want Voter I.D. and Free and Fair Elections.”
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