Livid at what they see as corporate America’s progressive posturing on cultural issues, top Republicans are pushing for swift retribution and targeting those companies’ bottom lines.
In recent days, GOP leaders have encouraged boycotts against a group of companies that have condemned or pulled business from states that have passed more restrictive voting laws. The appetite for punitive measures hasn’t ended there. Republicans are also encouraging state and federal officials to utilize the tax code as a means of hitting back at, what they deem to be, “woke capitalism.” And they’re targeting some of the most iconic American brands — from Delta and Coca Cola to Major League Baseball — in the process.
“The GOP response … is the successful playbook for how these fights will be won moving forward,” said former Office of Management and Budget director Russ Vought, whose new group, the Center for American Restoration, is largely focused on cultural issues.
“Boycotts may or may not work, but what will work is to identify every unique benefit these woke companies get under the law and remove them and require they operate as all other companies in those states have to,” Vought added.
The increasingly aggressive pushback against politically outspoken companies is the latest, and perhaps purest, illustration of a party at a philosophical crossroads. Republicans spent decades aligning themselves with the business community and its preferences for lower taxes and fewer regulations. During the 2017 GOP tax reform push, the party slashed the corporate rate from 35 to 21 percent. In return, they have been bolstered with industry money and political support. Now, however, they’re betting that they can win on a backlash to the idea that political correctness has entered the boardroom and is irreversibly damaging conservative causes.
For Trump alumni like Vought and other conservatives who have soured on big business, the sudden enthusiasm for their cause has been a welcome development. Still, many conservatives remain skeptical that the newly coordinated campaign portends a seismic shift for Republicans. There is, for example, no appetite to embrace a corporate tax hike as proposed by President Joe Biden to pay for infrastructure spending. But while it may not be the end of the marriage for Republicans and big business, even they see it as the beginning of a volatile patch in the relationship.
“Old habits are hard to break. There are legislators who have served in office for 30 years and this is like learning a new language for them,” said Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute. “They still think profit motives drive these companies and it’s not in their interest to punish conservatives. But you’re seeing younger senators and office holders speak out on this and it will shape their politics moving forward.”
The roots of this friction started during Donald Trump’s presidency, when the White House would occasionally launch into cultural slap-fights that advanced the president’s personal, political and business whims, and conservative TV hosts encouraged boycotts of companies that seemed amenable to liberal pressure campaigns.
But it has accelerated during Trump’s post-presidency, with Republicans making use of the law to punish corporate entities that they feel have crossed them. The most prominent case came a week ago when Delta publicly condemned Georgia’s new, GOP-authored voting law that civil rights groups say will impose difficult new requirements for absentee and mail-in voting and disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color. Soon after Delta CEO Ed Bastian decried the legislation as “unacceptable,” Georgia House Republicans voted to rescind a lucrative fuel tax break for the company. The measure failed when state senators declined to take it up on the last day of their legislative session.
On Friday, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick lambasted American Airlines over the company’s opposition to a GOP proposal to adjust voting hours and grant state leaders more authority over local elections, among other changes. The measure, which has yet to advance out of the state legislature, was also condemned by Dell Technologies.
“Texans are fed up with corporations that don’t share our values trying to dictate public policy,” Patrick wrote in a lengthy statement.
Then came the Major League Baseball association’s announcement that it was yanking its annual All-Star Game from Atlanta’s stadium to protest the Georgia voting overhaul. Trump urged his MAGA followers to boycott America’s favorite pastime, as well as a host of other companies that had criticized the voting law, “until they relent,” while Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp accused MLB of succumbing to “cancel culture.” Other Republicans accused MLB and Delta of engaging in a faux outrage campaign, noting that both companies maintain business ties with China despite its well-documented history of human rights abuses.
“Will Major League Baseball now end its engagement with nations that do not hold elections at all like China and Cuba?” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the Senate’s leading China hawks, wrote in a letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday.
But, once again, it wasn’t just charges of hypocrisy or boycotts on the menu. Within hours, prominent GOP voices — from Donald Trump Jr. to Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) — had proposed terminating the baseball league’s century-old antitrust exemption, which classifies MLB as a sport and not a business. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell followed up on Monday morning with a warning of his own. There would, he said, be “serious consequences” if corporate America continues acting like “a woke parallel government.”
A spokesperson for McConnell declined to clarify what the Kentucky Republican meant by “serious consequences.” The Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business lobbying organization that has mostly supported Republican candidates and legislation in the past, though increasingly backed Democrats, did not respond to a request for comment.
The aggressive public pressure campaign by conservatives aimed at influencing corporate behavior is putting corporations in the uncomfortable position of having to straddle both the left’s calls for social justice and the right’s unexpected threats to their bottom line. Some Republicans say they are simply taking a page from the Democrats’ playbook — just as progressives called for a boycott on Equinox gyms after its CEO donated to Trump or a ban on the In-N-Out burger chain after its founder donated to the California Republican Party.
“After two decades of the left being on offense, normal people are starting to fight back and say if these are the rules of the game, we are going to play, too,” said former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “I think that’s [Republicans] saying, ‘Oh, you want to pick a fight with me? This is what a fight is going to be like.’”
But there are also concerns Republicans will get stuck in a never-ending tit-for-tat that will damage long-standing ties to the business community. GOP lawmakers have, so far, only targeted companies on individual bases and not industries as a whole. Rubio, for example, said he would support a unionization effort at an Amazon factory in Alabama, not because he viewed it as critical for labor rights but because it would expose the e-commerce giant’s hypocrisy as a supposedly high-minded company.
“I wish companies would take the Michael Jordan approach to politics and recognize that Republicans and Democrats both buy shoes, we all fly on the same airplanes,” said former Republican congressman and Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz.
“I think Republicans as a whole would be better to point to [Opportunity Zones] as a better long-term solution for everyone as opposed to trying to fight Coke and Delta one battle at a time. It’s just silly at some point,” Chaffetz said.
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