Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your wrap-up of the week in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.
For decades, Republicans were the party of big business, working hard to align themselves with corporations in their preferences for lower taxes and fewer regulations.
This week, they embraced a new form of economic growth: cancel culture capitalism.
In a political twist, Republican leaders across the country spent the past week vowing retribution against a trifecta of famous American brands — Coca-Cola, Delta and Major League Baseball — after they criticized a new law that is likely to curtail the ability to vote in Georgia.
Republican state legislators in Georgia demanded the removal of Coca-Cola products from their offices, as conservatives promised to follow the calls of former President Donald J. Trump to boycott “woke-a-cola.” The Republican-controlled State House voted to strip Delta of a $35 million jet fuel tax break before adjourning for the year. In Congress, Republican lawmakers took steps to remove M.L.B.’s decades-old antitrust exemption, and in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott refused to throw out the first pitch at a Rangers game.
And Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, warned corporate America to stay out of politics, threatening grim “consequences” to come for the private sector if it sided with Democrats and what he called the “far-left mobs.” (He was quick to clarify that his remarks this week did not, in fact, mean companies should curtail their political donations; defending corporate contributions has been a career-long crusade for the top Senate Republican.)
Boycotts have been a political tactic used by both parties for decades. But the aggressive pushback against what conservatives call “boardroom wokeness” is another example of how much Republican politics have changed since Mr. Trump went to Washington and how unlikely they are to revert now that he’s gone.
Mr. Trump’s brand of politics changed the economic incentives for Republicans. With a political base driven by cultural grievance, populist messaging and a false belief in a stolen election, attacking corporations over “cancel culture” has become good business for the G.O.P.
It’s a tactic that moves the conversation from what is actually happening — for example, a law that will make it harder to vote in Georgia — to the kinds of social issues that generate viral headlines in conservative media, interview requests from Fox News and a flood of campaign cash.
“It means cancel culture and partisan activists are coming for your business, they’re coming for your game or event in your hometown, and they’re coming to cancel everything from sports to how you make a living,” Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia said at a news conference attacking the backlash to the sweeping voting law.
In reality, the enormous pushback that Mr. Kemp described amounted to a couple of carefully worded, disapproving corporate statements and the decision by M.L.B. to relocate its All-Star Game from suburban Atlanta. Still, the Republican governor repeated a version of his ominous scenario in roughly 60 interviews this week, a media tour that he saw as an opportunity to rehabilitate his political brand with the conservative base, according to allies.
He also began fund-raising for his re-election off the voting law, pleading on his website for money to help “defend election integrity.”
Mr. Kemp is hardly the only Republican to see dollar signs in the drama. A fund-raising text from the Republican National Committee asked donors in a survey whether they would be boycotting M.L.B. On Friday, the committee began a new campaign — complete with a billboard and a full-page newspaper advertisement in Georgia — blaming President Biden for the league’s decision to relocate its summer showcase.
It’s not just voting rights where corporations find themselves under attack from the right. After Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, a Republican, vetoed a bill restricting medical treatment for transgender youths, he was accused by Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, of bowing to corporate pressure.
In an interview, Mr. Hutchinson said he hadn’t spoken with any companies about the bill, though he defended their right to raise concerns.
“Recruiting a work force and talent is a core responsibility of a business that’s going to survive,” he said. “And so, absolutely, it’s right to be engaged in some issues, because it impacts their survivability.”
Companies say that the political environment has created an impossible situation, particularly for entities like M.L.B. that don’t see activism as part of their brand. Moving the game prompted a backlash from conservatives. But had the league decided to keep the game in the state, officials feared the controversy would have overwhelmed the sport.
An M.L.B. source described what many within the league saw as an untenable scenario for the sport: A number of players would refuse to participate in the game. The remainder would have been asked — over and over again — about their positions on the voting law. The game — and baseball — would have been consumed by the controversy for months. Whether the game stays or goes, it will be viewed as political.
Of course, it’s worth asking: Who, exactly, is doing the canceling? From actors losing movie deals because of offensive tweets to obscure Dr. Seuss books being voluntarily pulled by their publisher for racist imagery, conservatives spend a lot of time denouncing “cancel culture”— arguing that there should be little societal cost for unfettered free speech.
But when companies express their disapproval of Republican ideas, like an election law, the same rules don’t seem to apply. Right-wing conservatives call for boycotts and revoking government benefits like tax breaks, penalties that sound an awful lot like “cancellation.” (Somewhat halfheartedly, perhaps. After demanding that supporters switch to Pepsi, Mr. Trump was spotted with what looked like a bottle of Coke partially hidden behind a phone on his desk.)
It’s not even clear what “being canceled” means for a person or a brand exactly, other than having to pay an economic cost after an offensive statement or action. Is Dr. Seuss really canceled? After the books were pulled, sales surged to record levels. What about the entire state of Georgia, as some Republicans seem to claim? That might come as a surprise to the nearly 11 million people who live there.
Can a senator, one of the most powerful people in American government, be canceled?
Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri was quick to blame “cancel culture” when Simon & Schuster dropped his book contract over his role in trying to overturn the election results. He accused the publishing house of silencing him with a “direct assault on the First Amendment.” Yet when it comes to M.L.B. expressing its views, Mr. Hawley is the one calling for economic pain.
“The woke capitalists continue their campaign of retaliation & suppression against anyone who stands for election integrity,” he said recently on Twitter. “Now they’re at it in Georgia. #MLB should lose its government handout antitrust exemption.”
Mr. Hawley plans to introduce a plan next week to break up “giant woke corporations” that are targeting what he calls “election integrity” — his way of recasting the role that he played in perpetuating Mr. Trump’s baseless allegations and conspiracy theories about the election results.
Such political attacks would be a headache for the league, even if passage of an actual law revoking the exemption seems unlikely given Democratic control of the Senate. Cancellation, however, has been good business for Mr. Hawley. His campaign raked in the cash this year, raising record amounts from thousands of new donors.
He even found a new publisher, which immediately began marketing Mr. Hawley as “one of the highest-profile victims of the cancel culture.” The book, which attacks big technology companies, is already available for pre-sale on Amazon.
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… That’s the size of President Biden’s fiscal 2022 funding request to Congress. It does not include tax proposals, economic projections or spending on so-called mandatory programs like Social Security.
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