September 4, 2013

Having helped bankroll the ascension of untold Tea Party conservatives to the House and Senate in 2010 and 2012, pragmatic GOP-aligned business leaders have been startled to discover that these radical lawmakers are serious about some of that crazy Tea Party stuff they keep spouting. A journalistic mini-genre has sprang up to chronicle the schism that seems to have developed between business groups/establishment GOP types and Tea Partyers, one devoted to chronicling the former’s shock and horror over the latter. But ultimately the divisions aren’t all that deep or harmful to the business community’s interests at all.

The latest installment in this tale is a much-discussed New York Times piece today that asks: “How did corporate America lose control of the Republican Party?”

The piece notes that corporate America isn’t getting its way from the GOP on immigration and infrastructure spending and that business interests feel threatened by Tea Party-fueled debt ceiling insanity. But as Jonathan Chait notes, the basic story here is that corporate America is still mostly getting its way from the GOP:

What we’re looking at is a Republican Party that’s somewhat harmful to the overall business climate but helpful to the issues that most businesses care about. If the chaos gets completely out of hand — if, say, Republicans trigger a debt default crisis — then the calculation may change. In the meantime, the House Republicans are the business lobby’s sole bulwark against the Democratic-controlled government that steamrolled through the laws the business lobby is fighting to repeal or weaken. [...]

“Pro-business” still primarily means low taxes for the rich, more lax business regulation, and a generalized hostility toward income redistribution. Business would like to get that stuff without the craziness and nativism that comes along with it, but in American politics you go to war with the coalition you have.

Ed Kilgore also puts it well:

One of the most important corollaries of the “constitutional conservative” ideology that is at the heart of Tea Party activism is the virtual divinization of limited-government and absolute property-rights nostrums as fundamental to the enduring character of the country as blessed by the Founders, natural law, and Divine Providence. To put it another way, the rightward trend in the GOP has given far more to corporate America in an unshakable commitment to its long-term interests than it has taken away in occasional revolts against the business-community “line” on individual issues like immigration reform.

Tea Party groups like to cast themselves as foes of Wall Street, but as Chait and Kilgore note, Tea Party ideology is at its most fundamental level very much in sync with the business community’s interests.

I also feel compelled to remind folks that business leaders knew what they were getting when they helped bankroll the ascension of Tea Partiers to Congress in 2012. They did exactly the same thing in 2010, spending huge sums to help elect Tea Partyers in that cycle, too, only to be rewarded by a debt ceiling crisis staged by the Congressional GOP that they viewed as reckless, dangerous, and potentially harmful to the bottom line. That didn’t stop them from doing the same in 2012.

To be sure, it’s not impossible that at some point GOP sabotage governing could cause GOP-aligned business interests to question this continuing alliance. Another debt limit crisis is looming, as is a potential government shutdown. And the GOP’s continuing drive to undermine Obamacare takes us into new territory. Groups like the Business Roundtable see the drive to defund Obamacare as a non-starter and want the focus to be on changing the law, and other groups that would like to change the law so it works better for them are frustrated by the GOP’s stance that only full repeal is acceptable. But any real break seems highly unlikely. The basic alliance here seems pretty solid.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.