Whither the corporate overlords?

So, I kept meaning to write a post asking about how come the Chamber of Commerce et al., weren’t going to get the Republicans into shape and end this idiotic shut-down.  I mean, there’s no doubt that big business funds the Republican party and that this shutdown and debt crisis are bad for business.  So what gives?  Well, in sequential order, here’s the posts on the topic I’ve been meaning to link to:

First, the Post’s Reid Wilson:

The shift in the Republican power base comes after decades of redistricting processes that put most House seats squarely under one party’s control…

That means members of Congress are more vulnerable in their primaries, where they might face challengers who declare them insufficiently conservative, than they are in general elections. Republican primary voters, who are by definition more conservative than the electorate as a whole, hold disproportionate sway over those incumbents.

Meanwhile, the lucrative contributions from business interests, which for decades have been major sources of campaign cash for Republicans, become less important in a general election, as general elections themselves become less important than primaries…

Until the 2010 tea party wave and the rash of primary challenges against incumbent members, the influence of conservative activists built slowly and quietly. Today, as the House prepares yet another iteration of the continuing resolution that the Senate will almost surely reject, the shift of power from business interests to conservative activists is complete.

And Lydia DePillis in Wonkblog:

One strategic reason that business groups haven’t made much headway in this latest political conflagration is that even though Republicans have basically abandoned them, they’ve refused to defect to the Democrats, which might be the fastest way of breaking the deadlock. And urging both sides to just play nice increasingly just looks like wishful thinking.

Part of that stems from a fear of stepping into the middle of a political war. The Business Roundtable said that even though its member CEOs are gravely worried about the effect of Washington gridlock on the economy, they declined to specify what exactly they’d like to see. And even though most will say that the debt ceiling shouldn’t be held hostage to the fate of Obamacare, some still sympathize with the hard-right GOP desire to put it off.

And David Freedlander:

“Listen,” Walden said, according to several people present. “We have to do this because of the Tea Party. If we don’t, these guys are going to get primaried and they are going to lose their primary.

Walden asked how many of those seated around the table were precinct captains. These were money men, though, not the types to spend night after night knocking on doors and slipping palm cards into mailboxes

“A lot of the people there didn’t even know what a precinct captain was,” said one attendee

Not a single hand went up.

“I hear this complaint all the time,” Walden said. “But no one gets involved at the local level. The Tea Party gets involved at the local level.”…

“I have been in politics for 45 years,” said Georgette Mosbacher, a cosmetics CEO in New York whom The Washington Post once called “the eccentric grande dame of GOP fundraising.” “Every time something does not work, it has to be blamed on an entity ‘out there.’ Well, I am sorry, but the Tea Party isn’t that powerful, and anybody who stopped to think about it long enough would know that.”

But there is still a sense among the donor class that some countervailing force is needed to push back against the furthest edges of the party, regardless of what it is called.

“I have raised a lot of money, but I am not raising any more for House candidates,” said Munr Kazmir, a New Jersey-based businessman and major donor to George W. Bush. “I am angry. I am embarrassed to be a Republican sometimes, I tell you.”


In fact, to hear him tell it, he hasn’t heard even a whisper from business groups. And I think that’s the key to all this: the Chamber of Commerce might be against the shutdown, but they haven’t made much of an issue out of it. My sense is that this is widespread. So far, anyway, the posture of the business community has been that, sure, they’re against the shutdown, but they don’t really care much. For now, they’re fine with the GOP continuing to play its games and make trouble for Democrats.

Do Republicans no longer care about corporate interests? Don’t be silly. This hasn’t even been tested yet. If Wall Street and the Business Roundtable and other groups start screaming seriously about this—and they will if it goes on long enough to cause some kind of market panic—then we’ll find out how much clout they still have. Right now, they’re just shrugging their shoulders and doing a bit of tut-tutting. Nobody should interpret that as a failure of business lobbying. They haven’t even been trying so far.

And lastly, if you’re still with me, Ezra interviews political scientist extraordinaire, Theda Skocpol:

EK: But then there’s the funding world, and a lot of the key Republican funders are in the business community and they don’t want this shutdown, much less a debt-ceiling breach.

TS: They’re so passe! Everybody on the left thinks business controls the Republican Party. I’ve startled a few people by saying that we should be so lucky! Mainstream businesses don’t want a government shutdown or a default. I think some of those business forces are waking up and realizing they’ve spent a lot of money on folks they don’t have much influence with.  [emphasis mine] …

EK: It seems today that the Chamber of Commerce matters less to the Republican Party than the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity.

TS: But we have to back up. It’s been true since long before Obama that there’ve been these highly ideological think-tank like groups and these political action committees independent of the Republican Party itself channeling money to conservatives. And there’ve been tax-oriented groups like Americans for Tax Reform and Club for Growth focused on using these checklists and pledges to enforce orthodoxy…

EK: What does it mean for the Republican Party going forward?

TS: What’s happening here is unprecedented since the civil war. I’m not saying there’ve never been closures before. I don’t think we’ve seen a major party since 1860 threaten to shut down the entire government if they can’t overturn a presidential election. Think of the irony of that. At its birth, the Republican Party was held up by the losing Democrats in the 1860 election who said we will destroy the union if you don’t sign onto our agenda. You can call it tactics but that sounds minor. I don’t think this is minor.

So, to sum up (and hopefully you at least skimmed and are still with me down here), it is pretty much all about the primaries in these very red districts.  The business community is not involved in these primaries, rather they just help Republicans get elected in the general, no matter who the Republican is.  Meanwhile, the Tea party and related extremists are seeing to it that the most extreme, most uncompromising Republicans are the one’s getting nominated.  At some point, business needs to figure out that having so many yahoos in government is absolutely not good for government, regardless of the top marginal income tax rate.  Maybe they are slowly getting there.  But until the basic dynamic in the primaries changes, we’re stuck with the yahoos.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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