It was two years ago this month when Republicans and corporate leaders clashed over voting rights. In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, GOP officials scrambled to impose new voting restrictions, and a variety of prominent businesses, under pressure from civil rights proponents, denounced the anti-voting campaign.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was not only disgusted, he also effectively urged Corporate America to shut up.
“My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics,” the Kentucky Republican said in April 2021, despite McConnell’s extensive record of trying to drag corporations into politics.
All of this came to mind watching House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on CNBC yesterday, as co-host Aaron Ross Sorkin asked the California Republican about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ intensifying fight with Disney. The GOP leader suggested the governor was on the wrong track. “I don’t think the idea of building a prison next to a place that you bring your family is the best idea,” McCarthy said. “I think it’d be much better if you sat down and solved the problems.”
But moments later, the House speaker chided Disney, too.
“[I]f you’re going to be a large employer inside this state, you should also abide by the rules and run your business and don’t think you should get into politics.”
Perhaps the Republican leader hasn’t thought this through.
Disney’s intervention into “politics” came last year, after the company criticized a DeSantis measure that critics have labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” policy. Disney’s relatively brief and inconsequential corporate press release — issued after the policy had already passed — did little more than call for respect for the LGBTQ community, while accurately noting the degree to which the Florida GOP’s policy fell short.
This led DeSantis to launch a hysterically retaliatory campaign against the corporate giant, and it also led McCarthy to suggest that Disney and other business leaders should steer clear of “politics.”
But there’s reason to believe the House speaker doesn’t really believe this. After all, McCarthy is closely affiliated with a super PAC that has benefited from the generosity of corporate donors. I have a hunch the speaker would like these corporations to remain engaged in “politics” by continuing to contribute millions of dollars.
The model McCarthy seems to prefer is a three-step process:
- Corporations give Republicans money.
- Corporations agree not to say anything Republicans don’t like.
As we discussed a couple of years ago, party leaders like McCarthy and McConnell haven’t literally told corporate executives, “Just write the checks and then look the other way while we pursue far-right priorities,” but that seems to be the underlying point.