As right-to-discriminate proposals take hold as a new phase of the culture war, the right predictably finds itself at odds with its traditional foes: liberals, the LGBT community, civil libertarians, civil-rights proponents, etc.
But as last week progressed, it became equally clear that conservatives have added a new member to their roster of antagonists: business leaders.
“There’s been more pressure this week to put sanctions on Indiana than Iran,” [likely Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee] told host Michael Smerconish. “The reason that those corporations put the pressure on Indiana and Arkansas was because the militant gay community put the pressure on them,” he said.Huckabee reminded viewers that, while he loved Wal-Mart, the company demonstrated rank hypocrisy for doing business with countries such as Saudi Arabia or China, where executives would likely disagree with their partners’ human rights.
Of course, it wasn’t just Wal-Mart that weighed in on the debate, siding with the left in opposition to discrimination. The list of high-profile companies that intervened last week, all in support of civil rights and basic decency, isn’t short.
In Georgia, where a version of the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” died last week, Coca-Cola also entered the fray, urging Republican policymakers not to approve the bill. It led one GOP state senator to deliver remarks on the legislative floor, accusing corporate critics of hypocrisy and telling colleagues, “I don’t really think what they have to say matters a whole heck of a lot.”
At a certain level, this may seem obvious. Major corporations adopted a strong posture against discrimination, so Republican policymakers who support these measures pushed back. It’s how practically all debates take shape.
But let’s not miss the forest for the trees – since when do Republicans argue, in effect, “Let’s stop listening to private-sector business leaders”?
For generations, the GOP was seen as the party of big business, and it was a label the party earned. Big Business and Corporate America are supposed to be conservative – anti-regulation, anti-interference, pro-free market – and private-sector leaders are supposed to find natural allies among Republicans.
And not surprisingly, this alliance has influenced what GOP officials say and do. Corporate leaders are “job creators,” we’re told, who form the backbone of American free enterprise and who deserve as many tax breaks as humanly possible. It’s the nation’s private sector, Republicans insist, whose opinions are supposed to be sacrosanct.
Last week, however, Wal-Mart found itself on Democrats’ side. Apple, arguably the most successful company in the history of capitalism, was under fire from the right for speaking out against discrimination. Some Republicans in Georgia dismissed Coca Cola as irrelevant, which just isn’t supposed to happen.
When GOP orthodoxy is put to the test, and the party is confronted with a dispute between anti-gay culture warriors and anti-discrimination business leaders, quite a few Republicans weren’t entirely sure which contingent to take seriously.
But the broader takeaway is how often we seem to be finding business leaders at odds with their GOP allies. It became clear last week that Corporate America considers discrimination bad for business. At the same time, much of the private sector also supports immigration reform. And the Affordable Care Act. And infrastructure investment. And an end to debt-ceiling hostage crises.
I don’t want to overstate the case – the odds are poor that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, and National Federation of Independent Businesses are suddenly going to start throwing money at Democratic candidates.
The fact remains, however, that private-sector leaders expect Republicans to take the concerns raised by the business community seriously, and lately, that’s just not happening. Indeed, Politico ran a lengthy report last week on the Chamber of Commerce’s “bad bet” on the GOP: “After spending tens of millions to elect Republican candidates, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce still can’t get them to do what it wants.”
These conflicts are growing more common, not less, and have begun to incorporate an expanded spectrum of issues. There’s long been some simmering tension between the GOP’s pro-business contingent and social-conservative base, but it’s generally been a tug of war for attention, with each faction urging the party to take its priorities seriously. This year, however, what we’re seeing is a different dynamic in which the factions are at odds with one another, leaving Republicans unsure which direction to turn.