It's all happened so quickly, it's been easy to miss the major implications of Republicans deciding that entities like Major League Baseball and Corporate America are now on the wrong side of their political fault lines.
For decades, Republicans have been the pro-business party—the party that backed every government policy that placed the needs of big business over the welfare of everyday Americans. In 2011, eventual GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney went so far as to argue that corporations are people and therefore raising taxes on them would be just like raising them on any other individual. At its core, the formulation both took a sympathetic view of giant corporations and crystalized the GOP's allegiance to protecting them from political backlash as they prioritized their bottom lines over the rights and livelihoods of American workers.
A decade later, Republicans are the ones making the threats as they grapple with two ideologically opposed demographics that form some hypothetical "winning" coalition of base voters for them. Senate GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell exhibited a certain hysteria about Republicans' change in fortunes Monday when he issued a lengthy statement concluding that corporations would "invite serious consequences" if they continued down the path of rejecting policies that are politically and culturally out of step with the consumers they are trying to reach. That's exactly the assessment Major League Baseball (MLB) made when the league pulled its All-Star Game out of Atlanta after Georgia Republicans passed a law specifically designed to disenfranchise Black and Brown voters. Indeed, a new Morning Consult poll released Tuesday found 62% of "avid" MLB fans backed the move while a solid 48% plurality of MLB fans overall also supported the decision.
But just in case McConnell's Monday threat wasn't explicit enough, on Tuesday he made sure absolutely no one would find his intentions too cryptic.
"My warning to corporate America is to stay out of politics," McConnell said, calling the stated opposition of entities like the MLB, Coke, and Delta "stupid." Oh, but just to clarify, "I’m not talking about political contributions," McConnell added.
It's difficult to overstate what a twisted train wreck McConnell is becoming now that Trump has wrested control of the Republican Party from his clutches. McConnell's latest pronouncement is the Trumpification of the party in its purist form. Pre-Trump, intervening in the private sector to pick winners and losers was completely anathema to the Republican Party. For at least a generation, the GOP mantra has been that businesses making business decisions entirely based on their profit models was good for America no matter who or what it might harm. But since the GOP now considers voter suppression to be an existential necessity for the party's continued electoral success, the Republican Party itself finds itself on the wrong side of that bottom-line business calculation and desperate to change the equation.
But the 180 turn from McConnell is particularly noteworthy since, he—perhaps more so than any other present-day U.S. lawmaker—has built his entire career on leveraging money (i.e., major political donations) into power. McConnell has never had the natural charisma or rhetorical gifts of many politicians. His dry, dispassionate pronouncements from the Senate floor typically leave listeners thirsting for hydration as the taste of sawdust coats their mouths. But what McConnell always understood was that with enough money, he could buy power, and amassing power has truly been the sole organizing principle of his life.
That's why McConnell spent a good chunk of last year threatening to torpedo COVID-19 relief unless a provision was included that shielded businesses from any pandemic-related lawsuits, such as deadly coronavirus outbreaks that might arise in a workplace due to unsafe conditions. Corporate interests and their continued donations—along with those of the uber wealthy—were paramount to McConnell, even when lives were at stake. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi never budged, and McConnell ultimately relented on his push in December when he realized Senate Republicans must approve another round of stimulus funding, including direct payments, if the two GOP senators facing runoffs in Georgia were going to stand any chance of being reelected. In other words, the electoral realities of keeping his Senate majority momentarily trumped his pursuit of corporate donations for the greater GOP good.
So McConnell making direct threats against the very corporations he has spent his entire career courting is a truly stunning paradigm shift. And make no mistake, those threats are nothing short of extortion. McConnell is saying Republicans will abandon advocating for American businesses unless they shut their traps and keep the donations flowing. It's not exactly free-market enterprise, is it? Sounds a lot more like something out of Beijing or North Korea—do as you’re told and we'll make sure to rig the system in favor of your company. It’s also the exact direction Trump took—don’t get on the wrong side of me or you and your company will pay dearly, literally.
First the GOP went to war with Major League Baseball. Now it’s Corporate America. Who will Republicans train their sights on next?