Sen. Marco Rubio is well aware of the close ties between his party and corporate America, and the Floridian has spent years trying to position himself as a different kind of Republican. During his ill-fated presidential campaign, for example, the senator said he intended to make the GOP "the party of the bartenders and the maids, of the people that clean our rooms and fix our cars."
To that end, Rubio has invested a considerable amount of energy into criticizing private-sector giants and leaders, though the details matter.
In March, the senator wrote an op-ed for USA Today in which he condemned Amazon, not over wages and working conditions, but because he perceives the online behemoth as being "allies of the left in the culture war." The piece repeatedly used the word "woke" derisively.
A month later, Rubio wrote another op-ed, this time for The New York Post, accusing corporate America of "waging a merciless war against traditional values." The Republican added, "No policymaker would allow a company to dump toxic waste into a river upstream of a thriving town he is charged with governing. Yet corporate America eagerly dumps woke, toxic nonsense into our culture, and it's only gotten more destructive with time."
In an op-ed published Monday, the Republican from Florida called corporate America "the instrument of anti-American ideologies." Rubio bemoaned what he described as corporate America's "wokeness" — a catch-all phrase for being sensitive to social problems such as racism and inequality but which is also derided by critics as virtue-signaling or adopting neo-Marxist world views. He proposed holding corporate leaders legally liable "when they abuse their corporate privilege by pushing wasteful, anti-American nonsense."
I can appreciate the point of the political strategy. Rubio wants to be able to credibly separate himself from Republicans perceived as being in the back pocket of corporations and their lobbyists, and as part of the effort, the senator engages in performative criticisms of powerful businesses.
But as we discussed in the spring, a policy problem is unavoidable. Of course it sounds nice to think a leading GOP senator would prioritize the interests of bartenders, maids, and mechanics over the demands of Wall Street, but there's a substantive breakdown. Does Rubio support a higher minimum wage? No. Does he support social-insurance programs such as the Affordable Care Act to ensure bartenders, maids, mechanics, and their families have health security? No.
Has the senator championed paid-leave legislation? No. Is he prepared to back stronger labor union protections? No. Did Rubio oppose his party's massive tax breaks to corporations already enjoying record profits? No.
Instead, the Floridian intends to champion the interests of working people by steering business leaders away from "woke" corporate values. It's about conservative ideological and cultural goals, not practical and material goals.
On Sunday, Axios reported that Rubio is recommending a "GOP-Big Business divorce." But in instances like these, don't overlook the fine print.