As Republicans castigate corporations for opposing their nationwide efforts to change voting rules, the Democratic Party’s top critics of private sector power are laughing at the notion that corporate America and the GOP have actually splintered.
Asked on Wednesday about the idea of a rift between the GOP and big business, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) let out a chuckle.
“I think the Republicans have finally been called out,” Warren told The Daily Beast. “They think that they can pass laws to keep people from voting and otherwise undermine our democracy, and so long as they cut taxes for corporate America, everything will be sunshine and roses. They’re wrong.”
The former Wall Street watchdog and progressive 2020 presidential candidate didn’t exactly give corporations moral credit for speaking out against the GOP’s voting stands. They’d simply reached their limit.
“All of this is about democracy,” said Warren. “Corporations are willing to get in and throw their money around to help candidates that they're aligned with, but what we're seeing now is they're not willing to take that all the way to the point of breaking our basic democracy.”
That apparent breaking point was Georgia Republicans’ bill, passed in March, to restrict several avenues of voting access after high-profile Democratic victories in the state fueled conspiracies about election integrity. Big local companies like Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola spoke up strongly against that bill, and Major League Baseball pulled its scheduled All-Star Game from the state under pressure from their players and the public. CEOs of major companies like Pepsi and Paypal huddled recently to discuss coordinated pushback to bills similar to Georgia’s nationwide. And on Wednesday, the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post had an open letter signed by hundreds of corporations—including Starbucks, General Motors, and Google—condemning “any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”
Those moves, among others, have prompted the GOP to turn on corporate America’s titans as “woke” warriors taking marching orders from Democrats, which has sparked the op-eds and headlines speculating about the schism between C-suites and the Republican Party.
Not only do progressives like Warren reject the idea that this rift is real—they also reject the idea that a broader political realignment is taking place, one in which Republicans assume the role as big business’ main adversary, while Democrats gradually align with corporate interests.
The de facto dean of the party’s left wing, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), put forward a simple litmus test for Republicans when asked that question. “We’ll see how they feel about asking large corporations and the wealthy to start paying their fair share,” Sanders told The Daily Beast. “Let’s see how they feel about raising the minimum wage.”
The subtext for Sanders’ answer: Republicans largely don’t support those things. To pay for their proposed $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan, President Joe Biden and Democrats want to raise taxes on corporations to 28 percent, up from the 21 percent rate that the GOP codified in their 2017 tax bill. Republicans have uniformly balked at that idea.
The GOP also vocally opposed an effort from Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 when Democrats pushed to add it to their COVID relief package in February. Only one Republican, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), came close to endorsing the idea, backing a minimum wage hike only for the biggest corporations. Generally, he has been one of the few Republicans willing to back up criticism for corporations’ politics with some measures to restrain their power.
Hawley believes the rest of his party is catching up with him, particularly on issues of antitrust, and he argued the Democratic Party is becoming the preferred party of corporate America. “The corporatist party right now, increasingly today, is the Democratic Party,” Hawley argued to The Daily Beast. “We’re in a significant realignment right now.”
Many Republicans’ recent displays of antipathy toward corporate America have been largely fueled by the sense they are targeting them in one way or another, not only through the opposition to state-level voting bills, but through endorsement of “cancel culture” or censorship of conservatives.
Beyond that, the declarations from numerous large companies—such as Amazon, AT&T, Mastercard, and Blue Cross Blue Shield—that they would not contribute to the campaigns of Republican lawmakers who objected to the certification of the 2020 election after Jan. 6 further rankled the party.
When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) recently issued a surprise endorsement of the drive to form a labor union at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, he alluded to the mega-corporation’s devastating impact on small businesses. But most of Rubio’s firepower was reserved for Amazon’s supposed “war against working-class values” by banning conservative books from their marketplace, and their “citizen of the world” status, which he argued made the company complicit with China’s communist government.
His 2016 presidential rival, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), has also gone after “woke” corporations but tried to shoe-horn those criticisms into a conservative-flavored argument that power, in general, is bad. In a Tuesday tweet, Cruz declared: “Big Government is bad. Big Corporations are bad. Big Tech is bad. Big Hollywood is bad. Any massive accumulation of power is bad.”
Hawley, who is leading a push to strip a century-old antitrust exemption for MLB in response to the Georgia decision, disputed the idea that Republicans’ lack of support for making corporations pay higher taxes means they are not serious about holding corporations accountable. “I don’t buy that you have to support Democrats’ policy agenda in order to have a serious critique of corporate America,” he said.
Progressives are deeply skeptical of this, of course. “You can't just rhetorically say, ‘We're the party of working families,’” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), a leading House progressive who co-chaired Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. “What are the policies? What is one concrete policy that Republicans in the last 30 years have passed that is directly in the interests of working families, that has increased worker power compared to corporate power?”
As to Hawley’s point that Democrats are more corporate, Khanna dismissed it outright. “I think we're moving the other direction,” he said.
To Warren, though, it all comes back to the issue that has expanded the daylight between Republicans and corporations: voting.
“Corporate America may still be willing to line up with the tax-cut Republicans, but not over something that is fundamental to democracy,” said Warren. “So, in a sense, when you asked me about just the simple realignment in politics, that’s not what it says to me. To me, it says, here’s something bigger than politics, and that corporate America recognizes it has a responsibility in America, and that responsibility is to support our democracy.”