By Reed Galen
In Washington, it’s rare to see or hear Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) visibly upset. In remarks and a statement earlier this week, a clearly perturbed McConnell told Corporate America to mind its own business when it comes to democracy and stay out of politics. To the layperson, his demeanor would appear no different than the thousands of other monotone, barely audible threats the Senate Minority Leader has muttered over the years.
But this was different. McConnell was enraged. The very core of his still-considerable power is under threat from a Corporate America that understandably wants nothing to do with a growing list of voter suppression bills McConnell’s allies in the states are ramming through legislatures across the nation. The eight members of the Senate and 139 in the House who were part of the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election shook Corporate America, but pressure from McConnell and his allies was scaring them back into compliance.
Then came Georgia.
Two weeks ago, Georgia Republicans passed SB202 an egregious bill that changes the rules on how Peachtree State voters cast their ballots and participate in the electoral process. Many of its provisions will have a significant, detrimental impact on voting by Georgia’s African American population.
Though Georgia’s biggest corporate citizens – namely Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines — did not directly oppose the legislation, they have since criticized its passage and its provisions. Major League Baseball pulled the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta and sent it to Denver, Colorado.
In their current style of angry, performative politics these decisions by major corporations enraged Republicans up and down the ballot, and up and down the aisle. They’ve run to Fox News and Twitter to scream about “cancel culture” and “woke capitalism” in an appeal not to logic but to their base voters.
Don’t be fooled.
Their demands for boycotts fall flat. Their excoriation of “woke” capitalism rings hollow. Most of the biggest companies in America regularly give to both Republicans and Democrats. Most large business groups, such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, tend to favor Republicans and their lower-tax, lower-regulation dogma.
Georgia changed all that and Mitch McConnell is having none of it. For years McConnell has held up the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that said corporations have a political voice and any interference, by way of campaign finance regulation, is an infringement on their free speech. Just last year, McConnell himself said, “Politicians do not get to play red-light, green-light within the First Amendment.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate Leadership Fund, and other McConnell-connected campaign committees are recipients of millions of dollars in largesse from corporations, corporate executives, and corporate PACs. The money goes in the door at these committees and out again to McConnell’s favored consultants and allies; top McConnell lieutenant Josh Holmes and his company took in over $36 million dollars from Republican committees last election cycle alone.
American legislative politics at the Federal, state, and local levels is fundamentally transactional. Corporate America provides the checks, McConnell and Company run a protection racket from the nasty Democrats and their alleged socialistic tendencies.
For Republican politicians, it’s fine for these same companies to stand up for the rights of LGBTQ Americans or stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. To the GOP, these acts affect neither their jobs, their fundraising nor their everyday lives. They’re happy to have C Suites make grand, unifying statements about all of us being in this together.
When it comes to voting rights – the hard-won core of our democracy — Republicans have a message for the business community: Sit down, shut up, turn the money back on. The new laws in Iowa and Georgia, and those now pending before the legislatures of Florida, Texas, Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania exist only because Joe Biden won the presidency last year – fairly, freely, and openly. It’s one of the dirty little secrets of the GOP’s anti-democracy push; they have yet to produce any meaningful evidence of voter fraud, anywhere.
The GOP has long understood that neither culture nor demographics favor their long-term electoral strength. The 2020 election was a wake-up call for them. Having abandoned the marketplace of ideas, Republicans have instead chosen to restrict the types of voters who can participate namely those whom they know vote against them approximately 90% of the time.
Which makes McConnell’s outburst this week more explicable. There are only two things he cares about: power and money, and he sees the two, not incorrectly, as inextricably intertwined. Already facing a difficult map to retake the US Senate in 2022, McConnell knows he cannot afford to lose one dollar of financial support in his quest to retake the Majority Leader’s post.
McConnell was both blindsided and enraged by the actions of not just Coke and Delta, but American Airlines and Dell Computers: He didn’t count on them actually believing they have a role – social, moral and yes, political, in American life. He thought they would play ball like they always have.
In openly threatening CEOs, McConnell has opened a door for them: They may not like the Democrats as much, but they don’t tend to publicly promise “consequences” when there’s a vigorous disagreement. If it is likely that Republicans will take their revenge in two years, if they retake the House and the Senate, why would Corporate America help their campaign efforts at all?
Mitch McConnell always been a canny Washington operator, a consummate expert of Senate politics, and was willing to walk with Donald Trump through some of the former president’s ugliest moments. But McConnell claimed it was all in service to tax cuts or putting more conservative judges on the federal bench.
With his words this week, McConnell took his final steps to the Dark Side of American politics. He has now joined Trump in overturning our democratic norms by expecting companies to simply be an extension, an adjunct, to his quest for power and influence. As companies have started to cleave off from the herd, McConnell overreacted, and in the process, reminded Americans that the GOP is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain the authority they believe is theirs to possess.
Reed Galen is a co-founder of The Lincoln Project.