The unholy alliance of corporate greed and racial resentment dates to the days of Richard Nixon. I have long argued that this unholy alliance cannot stand, and therefore it will not stand. That’s the short statement of the argument. Today, Jonathan Chait spells it out at greater length—in my opinion, brilliantly. I recommend reading the whole thing.
Chait writes, in part,
McConnell, invoking a spate of Republican proposals to punish firms that speak out against their vote-suppression laws, warned, “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country.”
The next day, after reiterating his warning to corporations to “stay out of politics,” McConnell clarified that he did not mean to discourage their continued donations. Corporate money is speech, but speech isn’t speech.
The phantasmal threat of government intimidating business leaders for exercising their First Amendment rights, which McConnell had once invoked to ward off any limits on their ability to use financial leverage over elections, had suddenly become real. And the source of the threat is McConnell himself. A few days’ worth of large corporations condemning voter suppression has left the Republican leader so thoroughly rattled that he’s thrown away decades of laborious work reputation-building on the single issue that is the foundation of his worldview.
There is more at work here than the latest cynical turn of the wheel. McConnell is acting not only out of calculation but a mix of fear and rage that is enveloping segments of the right that believed they had come through the Trump era unscathed. For a certain class of Establishment Republican, the events surrounding Georgia’s voting restrictions have set off a mental crisis more severe than anything they experienced during the previous four years.
From the standpoint of the Republican elite — in particular, the conservative Republicans like McConnell who went along with Trump while cringing at his incompetence — the Trump presidency was an unpleasant period during which they were beset on all sides by impossible demands. To their right, Trump’s most ardent cultists disdained them as country-club insiders who resented Trump for inspiring a populist uprising that shook loose their control of their party. To their left, the media, liberals, Never Trumpers, and perhaps their neighbors and younger family members dismissed them as little Eichmanns working alongside a monster.
But what were they supposed to do? Impeach the man? Vote against tax cuts they believed would help the economy? It was all so unreasonable.
The nadir came on two consecutive days in January. On Tuesday, January 5, a surprising special election deposed the Republican Senate majority and gave Democrats a working government. The next day, a Trumpist mob ransacked the Capitol. In that moment, they finally snapped. McConnell delivered a searing speech blaming Trump. Even Lindsey Graham said he was done with Trump.
But the party faithful weren’t done. Trump’s lie that his sacred landslide election was stolen by fraud took hold among the party’s base. And so they responded by instituting a national wave of restrictive voting bills, beginning in Georgia, the epicenter of Trump’s grievance. It did not strike them as especially significant that the state is a literal crime scene (Trump is the subject of two ongoing investigations stemming from his efforts to pressure state officials to overturn the election results.) Nor did the symbolism of launching their vote-suppression program in a blue-trending former Jim Crow state strike them as especially provocative. Voter-suppression laws would, they hoped, advance the party’s electoral prospects by discouraging young people and racial minorities from navigating the bureaucratic requirements of voting.
More importantly, it healed the post-insurrection intra-Republican breach. While it looked to the outside world that they were flattering Trump’s lie, voter suppression was good old-fashioned mainstream Republican policy even before Trump came along. The conservative movement has argued for decades that the problem with voting is that too many people do it because it’s too convenient. “Voting is a privilege,” National Review’s Andrew McCarthy argues. (A privilege, not a right.) “It would be far better if the franchise were not exercised by ignorant, civics-illiterate people, hypnotized by the flimflam that a great nation needs to be fundamentally transformed rather than competently governed.”
[McConnell], importantly, criticized the insurrection and many of Trump’s lies about election fraud. His beliefs are not especially controversial on the right. Vote suppression sits at the intersection of Trump’s unique derangement and standard-issue conservatism. It is the sort of policy Republicans used to enact quietly, with little protest, back before everybody detested them.
To see dozens of corporations denounce voter-suppression laws has therefore come as a shock to the party’s elite. Nobody — nobody they cared about, anyway — was denouncing them for passing vote-suppression laws in 2010. They had begrudgingly accepted some level of backlash against Trump. But now Trump was gone, many of them had openly denounced him on his way out, and here they find themselves still on moral probation.
A sickening realization has settled upon them that many of the uncomfortable changes to the political atmosphere over the last four years may be permanent. The cultural change that alienated the GOP from academia and Hollywood years ago are creeping into corporate America.