If you'd asked me, say, five years ago what the Republican Party's economic ideology was, I'd have boiled it down to something like "Government interference in free market capitalism is a hindrance to liberty and growth — and potentially a gateway to socialism."
At this point, however, I regret to inform you that I have no idea what the party is thinking, because Republican elites now treat the free market like a tragic casualty of the culture war. In place of a coherent message is a garbled mess of contradictory beliefs: Corporate taxes should remain low; government should strip corporations of their tax benefits as political punishment; corporate money is free speech; boycotting and shaming corporations over their "cancel culture"-fueled choices is good; corporations' boycotting states for passing laws is bad; raising any taxes to pay for infrastructure is creeping socialism; antitrust laws should be enforced — but only against "woke" corporations.
In essence, even as the GOP is quadrupling down on social conservativism, it can no longer credibly call itself fiscally conservative — unless it's in the pursuit of the culture war its members are counting on for the party's survival.
After voting as a bloc against President Joe Biden's Covid-19 relief bill, congressional Republicans are gearing up to oppose the White House's infrastructure proposal. The GOP knows that it can't allow another big, popular win for Biden, so they're hammering at the price tag in hope of erasing the president's bipartisan support.
This is familiar territory for most Republican vets, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who called the plan "a Trojan horse" last Wednesday. "It's called infrastructure, but inside the Trojan horse it's going to be more borrowed money and massive tax increases on all the productive parts of our economy," McConnell said.
His bit about "tax increases" is aimed squarely at the corporate tax hike that the Biden administration wants to use to pay for the plan. But it's hard to take the GOP seriously on that front, for reasons of its own making.
President Donald Trump's years in office were spent racking up deficits, as neither he nor the Republicans in control of Congress for the first half of his term really seemed all that interested in balancing the budget. As I predicted, the second Biden was sworn in, the GOP remembered that it hates deficits.
It's a disconnect that "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace pointed out during an interview with Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. "When I hear, for instance, Mitch McConnell talking now about 'well, debt and deficits,' hasn't the Republican Party, haven't you, lost your credibility on this issue?" Wallace asked.
Republican elites now treat the free market like a tragic casualty of the culture war.
Blunt said no, but his colleagues haven't exactly helped him out with principled arguments — and that includes McConnell.
You see, the GOP's front in the culture war is being fought against the corporations that Biden is allegedly a crypto-socialist for attacking. Delta Airlines, Georgia's biggest private employer, came out against the state's recently passed election law. So did Coca-Cola, another corporate titan based in Atlanta. Major League Baseball, normally the most conservative of pro sports leagues, pulled the All-Star Game out of Georgia in response to the law's passage. A similar legislative effort by Texas Republicans drew rebukes from Dell and American Airlines.
These and other "woke" companies have given too much ground to the liberal outrage mob in conservatives' eyes. In response, Georgia legislators voted to strip Delta of a tax break on jet fuel as punishment. (The state Senate didn't pass the bill before it adjourned for the year last week.)
We also got Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, refusing an offer to throw out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers' home opener. In his letter to the Rangers on Monday, he also vowed to not use state resources to pursue the All-Star Game or other MLB events. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, sent out angry tweets about MLB's somehow hypocritical support for needing IDs to buy beer and paying money to attend games. (Which are, in fact, bad arguments.)
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, suggested stripping MLB of the antitrust exemption Congress granted it in retribution. And McConnell, the man who has built his career on letting corporations spend limitless amounts of cash in elections, warned in a statement that if "parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government," then these companies "will invite serious consequences." (Consequences like, say, a higher corporate tax rate? Just offering suggestions, senator.)
Conservative blogger Allahpundit gave the written equivalent of an eye roll to the histrionics, urging elected officials to "skip the legislative threats; organize boycotts and focus on shaming them for their hypocrisy at every turn." He and The Washington Post's Greg Sergeant also correctly noted that the reason Democrats are hammering on Georgia's bill so hard that corporations are taking notice is that the GOP refused to dispel Trump's voter fraud lies after last year's election.
And yet, in a perfect summation of the confused state of conservative thinking, Fox News ran a whole segment Monday complaining about Hollywood's use of businessmen as movie villains.
There is a method to this madness, or at least the inkling of one, that way Republicans have succeeded in drawing in voters only by using Trump's tactics centering white grievance. "Talking about corporate tax cuts and reducing burdensome regulations doesn't do it for our new voters," a Republican lobbyist told NBC News. "I guess it's not that exciting. It might be exciting for those country club Republicans we lost, but we're losing them."
Josh Kraushaar of National Journal found something similar in a political memo circulating among House Republicans:
While it argues that the GOP should embrace a working-class agenda to accelerate the realignment taking place between the parties, nearly all of the issues Banks highlights (except for trade policy) are cultural in nature: 1) immigration; 2) anti-wokeness; 3) Big Tech; 4) trade; and 5) coronavirus lockdowns.
The trouble is that once you embrace the idea that the only two pillars of your party's ideology are built on Trumpism, which is impossible to replicate without Trump, and capturing white voters' anger at liberalism, it leaves everything else by the wayside. And that's how you get a party so adrift intellectually that in the same week, its most powerful elected member is both anti-corporate taxes and anti-corporations.