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Does The GOP’s Break From The Chamber Of Commerce Matter?

Emily Jashinsky on Rising
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Republicans seem eager to give up the Chamber’s support. The question is whether Democrats will pick up right where the GOP left off. 

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The following is a transcript of my radar from Wednesday’s edition of “Rising” on HillTV.

In 2020, the Chamber of Commerce endorsed 23 House Democratic contenders, many in very competitive races. The group endorsed 29 Republicans as well, but its support for nearly as many Democrats made waves in the Beltway. It signaled change. 

In the fall of that year, Ryan [Grim] described the Chamber as a longstanding “appendage of the GOP.” Per usual, he was right on the money — literally. You can see a breakdown of the Chamber’s spending in these charts from Open Secrets. Yesterday, Kevin McCarthy seemed to officially file for divorce from the Chamber. 

“The Chamber left the party a long time ago,” he told Breitbart, fingering wokeness as the culprit. Note the sequence in McCarthy’s language: The Chamber “left” Republicans. And because of changes to their fundraising patterns in the Trump era, Republicans are comfortable, even eager, to break up. 

A source connected to GOP leadership told me last night that Democrats endorsed by the Chamber in 2020 were “margin makers.” In other words, the goal was to give them the House. The Chamber implemented “an intentional strategy to election Democrats,” the source said. 
A combination of reporting and common sense suggests that assessment is accurate. So why is corporate America shifting left, to the party that nearly nominated Bernie Sanders in 2016?

Well, because that party ultimately nominated Hillary Clinton. But it’s the problem of populism that’s rendering the Chamber potentially irrelevant. 

I think Democrats legitimately have a serious champagne socialist problem, but I also think, like Republicans, they’re having a hard time wrangling their populist strain, which puts an organization like the Chamber of Commerce in a weird position. 

But maybe it’ll all be fine for them. Aaron Renn wrote a brilliant piece for American Affairs probing why a deep red state like Indiana is not an enclave of personal prosperity, despite espousing all the traditional pieties groups like the Chamber ensured Republicans enshrined in their platforms. 

“The Hoosier state has had a Republican governor since Mitch Daniels was elected in 2004,” Renn notes. “It has been a Republican ‘trifecta’ state, with GOP majorities in both houses of the legislature, since 2011. When Daniels was elected, Indiana’s per capita disposable income was only 90.5 percent of the U.S. average. The governor’s top priority was raising the state’s lagging incomes; indeed, Daniels said his administration’s ‘central objective was to raise the disposable income of Hoosiers.’ His strategy for achieving this was business-centric, focused on ‘building the best sandbox for businesses to play in.’”

Renn has some reasonably kind words for Daniels but reckons with some cold, hard facts. 

“When Indiana became a Republican trifecta state,” he writes “its average disposable income had actually declined to 89.5 percent of the national level. By 2019 (pre-pandemic), it had fallen slightly to only 89.4 per­cent, and during the pandemic it dropped to 88.7 percent in 2020. In short, under Republican leadership the state’s relative incomes started out low and got even lower.”

That is to say, the Chamber-friendly dogma Republicans have tied themselves to for decades is not feasible alone in the context of deindustrialization and cultural chaos. Increasingly mainstream voices on the right and left are making this point, and as much as the political establishment sympathizes with the Chamber, new fundraising mechanisms are rendering them less important than in years past. 

This isn’t to say our political parties are suddenly going to be broadly representative, but it’s at least a sign that populism is serious enough to alienate political forces who are struggling to meet the moment. 

Republicans seem eager to give up the Chamber’s support, increasingly aware they can win on culture issues. The big question is whether establishment Democrats will pick up right where Republicans left off.