April 8, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Will the big business wing of the Republican Party stop the GOP’s retreat from the national stage?
Mitch McConnell's backflipping provides a clue.
Mitch McConnell must be feeling sore after this week’s backflipping. On Monday, the Senate minority leader said, “My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics.” He warned of “serious consequences” if they become “a vehicle for far-left mobs.” On Tuesday, McConnell said, “It’s quite stupid” for major firms “to jump in the middle of a highly controversial issue.” But on Wednesday, he was like oops, my bad! “I didn’t say that very artfully,” he said. “They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are. My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.”
You might think he’s responding to the idea of being a hypocrite. After all, no one in the United States Senate rivals McConnell when it comes to being the lickspittle of corporate power. He has devoted his career to ensuring corporations are permitted to spend as much money as they want—all in the name of free speech. Telling companies like Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola and Home Depot to butt out of the pro-democracy debate over Georgia’s voter suppression laws would seem like the height of hypocrisy.
Whoever told McConnell to shut it is suggesting that corporate leaders are not going to budge from the position they have taken with respect to voting and democracy.
But if there’s one thing we know about McConnell it’s that he does not feel shame. He has no moral core. He does not recognize the authority of higher-order values. What moves McConnell is power, and what moves power is money. His backflipping wasn’t to save face. It was in response to someone telling him to back off. His backflipping can be seen as a reflection of the fundamentals tearing him apart in front of our eyes.
Whoever told McConnell to shut it is suggesting that corporate leaders are not going to budge from the position they have taken with respect to voting and democracy. And that position is absolute. “The right to vote is sacred,” said Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines, based in Atlanta. “It is fundamental to our democracy and those rights not only need to be protected, but easily facilitated in a safe and secure manner.” Arthur Blank—the founder of Atlanta-based Home Debut, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and a billionaire who yields to no one in matters of conservative principle—said almost exactly the same thing. “The right to vote is simply sacred,” Blank said. “We should be working to make voting easier, not harder for every eligible citizen.”
Such an absolute position suggests another thing. These corporate leaders understand clearly the utility of appearing to be loyal to the practice of democracy, and that the Republican Party’s current trajectory puts them on the opposite side of that. Business leaders, who want to sell products and services to as many people as possible, can recognize the liability of being associated with anti-democratic behavior. This is, after all, why McConnell and others have worked so hard over the years to allow the very obscenely rich to spend billions influencing politics while keeping their names secret.
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This loyalty to democracy (or at least the appearance of loyalty to democracy) is running headlong into another force—loyalty to the former president. According to the Times, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm of the House Republicans, is raising money for the coming midterms in ways that test supporters’ loyalty to Donald Trump. If donors opt out of regular monthly donations, the Times reported, then Trump will be told that “you’re a DEFECTOR.” Given how many Republican voters still believe the current president stole the election, it’s not overstatement to suggest these forces, one for democracy and one against it, are struggling for control of the Republican Party and the outcome is unpredictable.
Meanwhile, more than 704 million coronavirus shots have been given, according to Bloomberg. The Biden administration is sending another round of stimulus checks, this time 156 million of them. (They include money for Social Security beneficiaries.) The Democrats in the Congress are debating a massive jobs and infrastructure bill that would rebuild the country. They have, moreover, given voters incentive to keep them in power. The huge health insurance discounts included in the nearly $2 trillion in covid relief package enacted recently are set to expire right before the midterms.
While the Republicans threaten to snitch when supporters fail the test of loyalty to a one-term president, the Democrats make no such threats at all. Indeed, they are sweetening the deal with good governance, renewed commitments to democracy and cash. It’s paying off so far. The number identifying as Republican or lean Republican dropped to 40 percent, according to Gallup. The number identifying as Democrat or lean Democrat rose to 49 percent. That nine-point spread “is the largest Gallup has measured since the fourth quarter of 2012,” the pollster said. “In recent years, Democratic advantages have typically been between four and six percentage points.”
The last time a president’s party won the midterms was 2002. As George W. Bush was seen to lead America out of the crisis of 9/11, Biden seems on track to being seen as leading the country out of another calamity. Meanwhile, the Republicans appear to be retreating from national politics. They are digging in their heels locally by ginning up outrage over trans rights and “voter fraud,” while obstructing everything in the Capitol. What we’re seeing is what Adam Kinzinger foresaw. “If it doesn’t want to be changed, that’s a decision Republicans get to make,” said one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Donald Trump. “If that’s the case long-term, I think we will lose elections, and will be a regional party that won’t compete on the national stage.”
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.