Derek Thompson: The truth about Georgia’s voting law
Although McConnell quickly and unconvincingly tried to walk his comments back (“I didn’t say that very artfully,” he said Wednesday. “They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics”), it’s clear that his original view is gaining sway among Republicans. Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia called Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta “cancel culture,” while Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas was blunter.
“You’ve meddled in a lot of issues lately … Stay out of things you don’t know anything about, and if you want to get involved, then you’re taking that risk,” he warned companies that have criticized voting-law changes under consideration in his state. Noting that many corporations have moved to Texas seeking low taxes and minimal regulation, he said, “Don’t, on one hand, say ‘Thank you, Texas,’ while, on the other hand, slap us in the face. We’re not going to put up with it anymore.”
What these politicians are expressing is the fury of people who thought they had a deal, and have learned that they don’t, at least not on the old terms. The old arrangement was simple: The fiscally conservative wing of the Republican Party would push for lighter regulation, lower corporate taxes, and lower taxes on the high earners who ran corporations. In return, the corporations would cut generous checks to Republicans and remain circumspectly quiet about the culture-war issues that the social-conservative wing of the party cared about.
To facilitate this bargain, McConnell made blocking or eliminating campaign-finance regulations a personal mission, knowing that if companies could make large donations, and especially if they could do it without public scrutiny, they’d fill up Republican coffers. (Though the economy has tended to prosper more under Democratic presidents, executives still prefer lower taxes and regulation.) The Kentuckian argued that money was speech, and limitations on donations—even requirements to disclose—infringed on free speech.
The deal worked for a long time, but like many things in American political life—the peaceful transfer of power comes to mind—it is a casualty of the Trump era. In the early half of his presidency, Donald Trump pursued some projects that solidified the traditional bond between the GOP and business, such as slashing taxes, but also others that divided the old allies, including protectionist policies on trade and personally intervening to bully companies. Last year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, usually a stalwart supporter of Republicans, endorsed some Democrats, and it forcefully condemned Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
Meanwhile, a decades-long consensus that publicly held that companies should, above all, do whatever they could to maximize short-term shareholder value began to soften. In 2019, the Business Roundtable, a leading trade association, released new guidance that said corporations should “push for an economy that serves all Americans,” in Chairman Jamie Dimon’s words, by investing in communities and employees, dealing ethically with suppliers, and considering longer-term returns.