The big news today is the two-day climate conference of world leaders, which I will write about in the future, but I am still chewing over something from four days ago. Tonight’s post is a combination of history and speculation, so this is a good one to skip if you need a break from politics or you’re not interested in musings.
If you’re still on board….
On April 19, Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who is the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in charge of fundraising to elect Republicans to the Senate, wrote an astonishing op-ed for Fox Business. It lashed out at “Woke Corporate America,” the corporations Scott blames for shunning states that are undermining voting rights in order to try to keep Republicans in power, particularly Major League Baseball. Using language that echoes that of former president Donald Trump, this scathing op-ed accuses business leaders of catering to “the rabble leftist mob” because they are “hoping to buy time to rake in more cash.” It warns, “There is a massive backlash coming. You will rue the day when it hits you. That day is November 8, 2022. That is the day Republicans will take back the Senate and the House. It will be a day of reckoning.”
The man who is in charge of raising money to elect Republicans to the Senate, a businessman whose net worth is estimated to be more than $200 million, with his wife worth another $170–208 million, is turning viciously on the business people who, until now, have provided the financing to keep Republicans in office.
This strikes me as an interesting moment.
The ideological faction that is currently in control of the Republican Party grew out of opposition to the active government both Democrats and Republicans embraced after World War II. But since Americans actually liked business regulation, a social safety net, and infrastructure projects, those Movement Conservatives who wanted to take the government back to the 1920s got little traction until 1954, when the Brown v. Board of Education decision enabled them to harness racism to their cause. With federal government efforts to end segregation in the public schools, businessmen who hated government regulation warned voters that their tax dollars were being used to give Black Americans extra benefits. It was socialism, they said, and it would encourage Black people to step out of their place.
This formula worked. Businessmen determined to cut the government bankrolled Movement Conservative candidates, and people determined not to let their tax dollars go to Black or Brown people voted for them. In 1986, Grover Norquist, a former economist for the Chamber of Commerce, brought together business people, evangelicals, and social conservatives. “Traditional Republican business groups can provide the resources,” Norquist explained, “but these groups can provide the votes.”
These two very different groups have worked together since the Reagan administration, but former president Trump changed the equation. In the past, the racist and sexist language was understated enough that supporters could wink at it and insist that those calling it out were overly sensitive. But Trump put it openly on the table.
When Trump announced his candidacy for president on June 16, 2015, suggesting that Mexican immigrants to the U.S. are drug dealers, criminals, and rapists, supporters continued the old pattern of excusing that rhetoric. But in August 2017, when Trump appeared to side with the white supremacist mob that killed Heather Heyer and wounded 19 other counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his claim that there were “very fine people on both sides,” a split seemed to open up in the party. Fed on decades of racist and sexist rhetoric and emboldened by the president, white supremacists stepped into public view in a way that could not be ignored. And party leaders who depended on their votes did not turn away.
But the calculation for business leaders changed with the January 6 insurrection and the attempts of states like Georgia to restrict the vote, largely to keep Black people from the polls. Consumers and employees are pressing business leaders to take a stand against the white supremacist wing of the party, and many of them are doing so. At the same time, though, small donors are making up for the money that corporations are withholding from Republican candidates. This seems to have inspired Senator Scott—who is in charge of fundraising, after all—to turn viciously on businessmen in order to court Trump loyalists.
Could it be that after all these years the marriage of business and racist voters is twisting apart?
If it is, it seems to me there are two logical outcomes to this split. It could be that the people running today’s businesses fall in line behind the white nationalists and let them call the shots, letting them take the lead in the old partnership for a change. If that happens, we can expect any future Republican government formally to throw out our foundational principle of equality before the law, and the vision that the former president and his followers embraced will come to pass.
But there is another possible outcome. It was, after all, the marriage of these two very different groups that gave Movement Conservatives the power to take over the Republican Party in an attempt to destroy the post–World War II government. If they finally wrench apart, the remnants of the Republican Party would once again have to appeal to ordinary voters who want to keep the active government that provides Social Security and Medicare and roads and clean water but who want a real conversation about what that government should look like.