What Is Replacing the GOP Alliance with Big Business?

by Reihan Salam

Josh Green argues that there is a growing cleavage between the GOP and the business community:

If Republican lawmakers were as responsive to business concerns as they once were, the chance of a prolonged shutdown would be slim. But that’s no longer the case. “Republicans are not the party of business anymore,” says Robert Shapiro, chairman of the economic advisory firm Sonecon. “They’re the party of antigovernment.”

The rising antigovernment sentiment within the GOP does not always conflict with the desires of the business community, especially on issues such as regulation. But the shutdown and debt ceiling are both matters where they do—and the unwillingness of Republican lawmakers to shift course underscores the diminished clout of their traditional business allies, despite the financial largesse. Asked by the Associated Press if he had heard business groups express alarm about the economic impact of a shutdown, Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California replied, “No. And it wouldn’t make any difference if I did.”

Tim Carney has celebrated this development, one of the central themes of his writing and reporting:

Since 2008 there has been a barrage of counter-evidence to those willing to look closely. Wall Street favored Obama in 2008, as did much of big business. Obama’s first big legislative accomplishment, the stimulus, had big-businesses stamp of approval. Obama’s health-care law had the support of the drug lobby — the biggest single-industry lobby in the country — as well as the hospital lobby and the doctor lobby. These industries, and the insurers, have worked to help implement the law, winning over Obamacare-wary governors.

There was the birth of the Tea Party, in anger at bailouts. There was the series of K Street-vs-Tea Party GOP primaries where the business PACs backed the more moderate candidate and the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks backed the more conservative candidate (see Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, for a few examples).

I have no qualms about the fact that the GOP is no longer so closely aligned with big business — my concern is that the alliance with big business doesn’t appear to have been replaced with an alliance with small business, or with middle-income voters. Rather, a minority of GOP lawmakers are acting in adherence to ideological principles that aren’t always easily discerned. Those who criticize Obamacare on the grounds that it is likely to exacerbate rather than alleviate the problems facing the U.S. health system are on both sides of the defund Obamacare question, for example. This internal conflict seems to be less about the virtues of markets as such and more about prudent legislative strategy and, to be clear, fundraising. So while I welcome the prospect of a GOP that is more pro-market than pro-big-business, I’m not sure that’s exactly what we’re seeing.