The Anti-Corporate GOP, Part II

Last June, I wrote the following:

What if the GOP fumbles around for a while, fails to develop a coherent message, continues to shout “Reagan!” in place of proposing policy, fails to find fresh political talent, and loses a series of elections, to the point where many begin to predict permanent minority status? Meanwhile, the Democrats spend the next decade or so getting used to power in Washington. A lot of their agenda involves finding new ways to regulate various industries. As this happens, industry, looking for influence, naturally begins to fund Democrats and Democratic lobbyists more heavily (corporate donations are already shifting away from the GOP), and rent-seeking becomes even more prevalent on the Hill. It won’t be long before Democrats, regulators, and the lobbying world have a very cozy relationship.

This opens up the opportunity for the right to exploit the anti-corporate outrage in middle America — outrage we can already see boiling up in the crusades against earmarks (handouts to donors and corporate interests), against CEO pay, against hedge fund tax rates and oil company profits. But instead of running the traditional anti-corporate campaigns, which mainly focus on taxing and regulating big-business, the right runs against the way liberal politicians have gotten into bed with corporations. It’s against the Washington favor-racket, against back-room politics, against collusion between business and government. This pleases libertarians somewhat and, if done properly, keeps low-taxers in the fold.

This morning, in The Politico:

In the midst of a deepening economic recession, the Republican Party is turning a cold shoulder to one of its closest allies: business.

When the Obama administration announced last week that it would come to the rescue of Citigroup, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) denounced the move as “corporate welfare.”

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said this weekend that “bailing out every failing business in America means [that] we’re burying generations under a mountain range of debt.”

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters last week that he “wasn’t happy” that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers supported the stimulus bill that every House Republican opposed.

And Rush Limbaugh has declared the Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout a “bastardization of the Constitution.”

Why have Republicans changed course on business? They say they haven’t — that business has changed course on them.

…Dan Schnur, a former Republican adviser who’s now the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, said the GOP’s stance makes sense given the shift in the party’s base.

“Over the last 15 years or so, Republicans essentially traded soccer moms for NASCAR dads,” who support the party on cultural and social issues, said Schnur. “Those working-class voters are bound to be much more suspicious and much more resentful of Big Business than the more upscale soccer parents.”

When I wrote the original post, I predicted that the rise of GOP anti-corporatism was a few years off, but I didn’t see the financial meltdown coming. I also thought it might take a somewhat more high-minded form, drawing off of John McCain’s honor economics and guys like Whole Foods’ John Mackey.

That, obviously, hasn’t happened — current anti-corporate sentiment GOP is more populist in spirit than I’d hoped — but the broad shape of what I suggested is falling into place. As government makes more and more moves to prop up ailing industries, it seems increasingly likely to me that the strong link between the Republican party and the business community will be severely weakened over the next year or so. That doesn’t mean the meme that the GOP is composed of scheming, sneering corporatists will die, nor that business interests will cease to donate to the coffers of the party and its various affiliated organizations. But it does seem quite possible that corporate donations to the right will fall somewhat, and that, more and more, Republicans and conservatives will not see themselves as defenders of business but as antagonists of industries too cozy with politicians and regulators.