Typically when large businesses oppose a Republican initiative, especially one that has also been the subject of a lot of negative press, Republican politicians fold. Mike Pence had to amend a religious-liberty law soon after signing it as governor of Indiana. Soon afterward, Republican governors Asa Hutchinson and Nathan Deal vetoed religious-freedom bills in Arkansas and Georgia, respectively. (Hutchinson later signed a bill with only cosmetic changes.) The Republican governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, had vetoed a religious-freedom bill previously. South Dakota governor Kristi Noem recently, under similar pressure, vetoed a bill reserving girls’ sports in school for biological women.
Georgia’s new election law has been the center of a national controversy at least as heated as most of those. Major companies headquartered in the state have denounced the law. But the state’s Republicans aren’t in a panic, rushing to repeal or amend the law. They’re not budging at all.
Instead it’s the law’s opponents who have been divided and defensive. Both of the state’s Democratic senators broke with President Biden’s call for Major League Baseball to take the All-Star game out of the state, as did de facto state party leader Stacey Abrams. Afterward, the White House tried pretending that Biden hadn’t urged MLB to do what it did. Biden has subsequently discouraged efforts to boycott the state.
In the early rounds of the controversy, Republican governor Brian Kemp has seen his numbers rise among Republicans by more than enough to offset losses among other voters. MLB has seen its support from Republicans “plummet.” A recent corporate statement on voting rights carefully avoided condemning either the Georgia law or any of its provisions. Coca-Cola is on the defensive: “We believe the best way to make progress now is for everyone to come together to listen, respectfully share concerns and collaborate on a path forward. We remain open to productive conversations with advocacy groups and lawmakers who may have differing views.”
Ralph Reed, the Georgia-based Republican strategist, says that the Democrats’ decision to label the law “Jim Crow 2.0” backfired, especially as Republicans pounded home that it liberalizes election procedures in some respects and is more lenient than many blue states’ laws. Instead of just mobilizing opponents of the law, the controversy may mobilize Republican-leaning voters too. He sees the possibility of higher turnout on both sides — “on their side because of a backlash against the law, on our side because of a backlash against the lies.” We’ll see. But for the moment, Republicans appear to be holding their own.