- The GOP corporate America used to know and love is gone.
- What we have now is an angrier GOP willing to punish companies that disagree with it.
- It’s un-American, and it has nothing to do with the free market, but apparently the base likes it.
- That means sorry, the old GOP went out to get a pack of smokes and it ain’t coming back.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Corporations need to hear this, and probably a few half-hearted Republicans do too — former House Speaker John Boehner’s GOP isn’t coming back.
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.
Instead we have a GOP that has no problem interfering with private business decisions. Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, for example, just signed legislation prohibiting private companies from requiring vaccination passports from customers.
Instead we have a GOP that punishes companies that do not share its political beliefs. In Georgia, the state House voted to strip Atlanta-based Delta Airlines of a $35 million fuel tax credit because it spoke out against a law that would make it harder for people to get to the polls. After decades of advocating for corporations to have more political power, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned companies to “stay out of politics,” only to somewhat walk it back after remembering who his donors are.
Some corporations — like Jet Blue, which just restarted donations to Republicans who voted against certification of election on January 6 — are trying to get back to business as usual. Instead they should be getting ready to play defense. With this GOP corporations are likely to become collateral damage as every issue devolves into total culture war.
Yes, the Democrats want to raise corporate taxes, but the Republicans have no problem punishing companies when they stand up for basic functions of our democracy — like easy access to voting — that the party now happens to oppose. That’s the choice for corporations now.
A GOP in need of anger management
All of this stands in contrast to recently published experts of Boehner’s soon-to-be-released memoir — an account of a man watching his party go insane. According to him, in 2010 as the party was radicalizing “a total moron and get elected just by having an R next” to their name.” He described birtherism — the wind beneath the wings of Donald Trump’s political aspirations — as “truly nutty.” All of it, he said, made it nearly impossible to cut deals with the Obama administration.
This isn’t to say that Boehner isn’t partly responsible for what the GOP has become, but it’s telling that he has written a memoir that marks a line in the sand between the GOP he presided over and the one that coalesced under Trump. He knows that the GOP post-Boehner era is an assemblage of everything that pushed him out of Washington on steroids.
Part of what Trump added to the “truly nutty” was pure rage. In an excerpt published by Punchbowl News, Boehner said after he shared a round of golf with Trump, it was the future president’s anger that stood out to him the most. A staffer accidentally told Trump and Boehner the wrong names of two men playing golf with them. Boehner shrugged it off, but Trump eviscerated the staffer publicly in a way that took Boehner aback.
“We had no idea then what that anger would do to our country,” Boehner wrote.
Even with Trump gone, the politics of anger he brought to the fore has remained with the GOP. We are just getting a sense of how it is settling in our politics now, and corporations will not be left unscathed. Politically motivated consumer boycotts have been an American pastime for both parties for generations, but today’s GOP has shown a willingness to dole out legislative punishment to corporations for what should be relatively uncontroversial political statements in ways we have not seen before in this nation, embracing the totality of “you’re either with us, or you’re against us.”
This is not just a phase
Right now the GOP and corporate America have a similar problem with Biden’s proposed infrastructure and tax legislation — the ideas are popular. A Reuters poll found that 79% of Americans support a government overhaul of American roadways, railroads, bridges, and ports. 71% support a plan to get high speed internet to everyone. Over 65% support replacing lead pipes and creating tax credits for green energy.
Americans are also supportive of raising corporate taxes. A Pew Research poll found that 62% of Americans are bothered “a lot” by how little tax corporations pay. That is to say, headlines about Biden raising corporate taxes in order to improve America’s airports are unlikely to upset many Americans.
Now, corporations will try to deal with this problem the the traditional way — by sending their lobbyists to Capitol Hill.
But the GOP has found another way to deal with the disconnect between its policies and their popularity — by staying laser focused on anger and never-ending culture war. Fox News has launched two new shows centered around cancel culture because that’s what excites its viewers. And the loudest GOP politicians with the most obvious aspirations for the presidency have decided that punishing corporations for being on the “wrong side” of any hot button issue is a political win with their base.
That is why corporations should get used to the reality that this is not just a phase. The Republican party requires a major adjustment to go back to what it was. Instead it is becoming more populist and more radical.
If you want to know in what direction the GOP is headed, look no futher than a man who will go anywhere the wind is blowing — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Once a protege of the Bush family, now his social media is chockablock with culture war video rants that sound like an audition for a primetime slot on Fox News. Recently he blasted Major League Baseball for the league’s decision — triggered by the aforementioned voting law — to move their All-Star Game out of Atlanta. Rubio decided to hit back at MLB by ranting about its business dealings in China and Cuba, obviously lacking the self awareness to realize that at this very moment, the Chinese Communist Party is harassing companies for their political and human rights stances as well.
The GOP may not raise corporate taxes, but it now behooves it to attack corporate interests in other ways. Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley — a young man who has had quite a lot of success fundraising after helping to incite the January 6 Capitol riot — tweeted about punishing “woke” companies using antitrust legislation to break them up. I needn’t tell you that punishing companies for taking a political stance is not what anti-trust legislation is for.
This is the direction the Republican party is moving in. Remember that it did not present a platform during the 2020 presidential election. It did not reiterate a belief in the free market or free speech or small government or democracy. All it had was Donald Trump, and the anger that blew John Boehner and his GOP away. It’s time to come to terms with that.
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