The Chamber of Commerce wing of the Republican Party needs to stop stabbing the rest of us in the back. To take the latest example from here in flyover country, Missouri GOP megadonor David Humphreys tried to scuttle our state’s new abortion restrictions. Humphreys, who has been a GOP kingmaker in this state, waited until the last minute, then launched a pressure campaign urging Gov. Mike Parson to kill the bill.
Thankfully, Parson stood firm and signed the legislation, which Missouri Republicans strongly support. Humphreys and his cronies may have the cash, and he’s threatened to finance a ballot initiative to overturn our new law, but pro-life conservatives have the votes in Missouri—and nationwide. Regulatory reform and lowering the tax rate on capital gains do not bring GOP voters to the polls; protecting babies does.
Even though the business wing of the GOP needs social conservatives, Humphreys’ attempted sabotage is only the latest instance of many business Republicans trying to shiv their coalition partners. Across the country, from Indiana to Georgia to Texas, business interests that are in the GOP for the Benjamins have fought against legislation favored by social conservatives, especially protections for religious liberty and human life in utero.
For example, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce boasts that its “diversity working group” “Played a key role in successfully opposing the passage of a RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] law in West Virginia.” In Texas and elsewhere, business Republicans have fought against bills that protect privacy rights by keeping males out of women’s spaces, and big business has applied enormous economic pressure to force girls to share showers, locker rooms, and other private spaces with males.
As for the protection of human life, many major corporations are enthusiastic supporters of the nation’s largest abortion chain, Planned Parenthood—which congressional Republicans never can manage to defund, despite repeatedly promising they will cut off the annual $500 million in federal funds the abortion chain receives.
There are, thankfully, many socially conservative businessmen (and women). But there are not enough to keep corporate culture from turning decisively against religious liberty. Nor is there consistent support for the pro-life wing of the Republican Party. When was the last time the economic side of the GOP backed up the rest of us?
The business wing of the GOP also works against the interests of populist and nationalist voters. From immigration to trade with China, the GOP’s moneymen have pushed policies at odds with the views and interests of the working-class voters they rely on to win elections. There is a feedback loop, with the populist turn of many on the right partly due to GOP business interests sabotaging their political partners’ efforts.
The economically inclined faction of the Republican Party might argue that they have every right to lobby for policies and priorities as they see fit. Why should they keep quiet about proposals they dislike? This misunderstands the nature of coalitions. A political alliance will not hold if one faction insists on full support for its own priorities while actively working against those of its partners.
Coalition politics necessarily involve compromise and prioritization. If the business wing of the party wants its corporate tax cut, it needs to at least stay out of the way as social conservatives achieve their goals. Jockeying for position is a normal part of coalition politics, but a minority faction trying to scuttle the top priorities of the majority faction is a declaration of civil war.
Social leftists in the GOP may feel that they have the upper hand—where else do social conservatives have to go?— so they think they can dole out crumbs to social conservatives while pushing through their economic agenda. They mistake the balance of power.
There is a persistent illusion among a certain sort of Republican that social conservatives and populists drag the GOP down. Although this may be true in the boardrooms and newsrooms of DC and New York, the opposite is true across the country.
As this graph breaking down the 2016 electorate vividly illustrates, there are very few socially liberal, fiscally conservative voters. As Ross Douthat put it, “The ideological groups that occupy this space — consistent libertarians, globalist Democrats, socially liberal deficit hawks, pro-choice and pro-immigration supply-siders — are vanishingly rare within the American electorate.”
Conservative voters who took a chance on Trump because of the Supreme Court were not primarily interested in administrative deregulation or abolishing Chevron deference: they voted to save babies and protect religious liberty. Republican voters are overwhelmingly socially conservative, and there is nothing automatic about their alliance with corporate agents and their agenda. Attempts by the latter to sabotage the former on key issues will further inflame populist passions.
Of course, some business Republicans may not care. Big businesses have tended to play both sides, and those in power in the business and financial sectors have been migrating toward Democrats. Some, such as many the tech sector, were never really Republican to begin with. They may feel comfortable with socially liberal Democrats who favor a corporatist approach that blends big government and big business. But they should recall that the Democratic Party’s base wants to eat the rich. Abandoning the GOP could end with business interests trapped between a populist right and a socialist left.
Business-first Republicans may want the GOP to be a pliant tool of oligarchy and social leftism, but the voters are not on board with that. For business-friendly Republicans to win, they must also deliver for social conservatives. Too many broken promises will break the alliance and the party.
The Republican coalition has not broken—yet. And the failure of Humphreys’ attempt to intimidate Parson means that this latest episode in Missouri will probably be quickly glossed over, rather than instigate a civil war in the state GOP (unless, of course, he actually funds the ballot initiative fight to overturn our law).
Nationwide, the same holds true, as President Trump and DC Republicans have delivered on key priorities for both factions, despite the lack of support from big business. But the warning signs are there, from Tucker Carlson’s populist turn, to the Chamber of Commerce’s fight against religious liberty, to this attempt to subvert the pro-life agenda of the majority of Missouri Republicans.
Businessmen like Humphreys may think they own the GOP because they paid for it. But it will be a very small party unless they stop backstabbing the rest of us.