To an underappreciated degree, the battle between the GOP and corporate America over voting rights reflects a deeper GOP failure: The party’s refusal to fully renounce a certain former president’s big lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

The latest front in this battle is in Texas. GOP lawmakers are pushing numerous efforts to make voting harder, leading Texas-based companies like American Airlines to sharply condemn the measures as a threat to voting rights.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has now issued a pointed warning to such companies. “Stay out of things you don’t know anything about,” Patrick said, claiming they’re taking a “risk” that in the “next session,” they might “have a bill they want us to pass for them. Good luck!”

Notably, Patrick also claimed the new measures are needed because “a large percentage of Americans do not believe” in the 2020 “outcome.” This widespread GOP line — limiting voting is needed to restore voter “confidence” — comes after Republicans themselves stoked this situation by propping up Donald Trump’s lie for weeks.

In short, the GOP refusal to fully renounce that lie — the refusal to tell voters the plain truth that they should have absolute confidence in the 2020 result — is the toxin coursing through the bloodstream of this new standoff. It is fueling GOP voter suppression everywhere, which is pushing big companies into a condemnatory posture, which is sparking an angry GOP backlash.

In a new piece, journalist Joshua Green tallies up the damage this threatens to the GOP. The sheer blatancy of these efforts in targeting African American voters is forcing many corporations to take a side against them, which ultimately traces back to the pull of Trump’s vortex of lies:

By making it harder to vote, Republican lawmakers are responding to Trump’s false claim that he lost the presidential election due to minority voter fraud, and they’re carrying on Trump’s efforts — this time proactively — to limit votes in minority-heavy areas from being counted.
The Republican attack is blatant enough that it has forced corporate America, under boycott threats from consumers and pressure from Black executives, to respond.

So in Georgia, Republicans tried to nix a Delta Air Lines tax break in retaliation for condemnation of the state’s new voter suppression law. Congressional Republicans are targeting Major League Baseball’s federal antitrust exemption after it pulled the All-Star Game from Atlanta. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is issuing similar threats.

Now Patrick is doing the same in Texas, while piously pretending the new voting restrictions are just about restoring confidence in elections. How dare companies criticize such a public-spirited move? But as Judd Legum’s newsletter details, Patrick himself aggressively seeded lies about 2020 that undermined that confidence.

Much of this traces back to the GOP refusal to Just. Tell. Voters. The. Damn. Truth. The 2020 election was a civic triumph, due to the integrity and heroism of countless election workers amid profoundly challenging conditions. But fealty to various gradations of Trump’s lie won’t allow for this.

Indeed, Trump is partly responsible for this whole blowup in an even deeper sense.

Big cultural movements

Republicans are eager to dismiss the corporate posture as “woke virtue signaling.” But it’s far more likely we’re seeing bigger cultural forces at play, ones Trump helped set in motion, ones shoving Republicans into revanchist retrenchment on the wrong side of this deepening divide.

The current battle didn’t suddenly unfold in a vacuum. It represents a convergence of several big cultural streams — all of which pushed corporate America to take sides, with prodding from Trump.

Trump’s attacks on kneeling football players, his demand that NFL discipline them and his call for a boycott in response, compelled some NFL corporate sponsors to voice qualified support for the players’ right to protest.

Last spring, the Black Lives Matter protests, combined with Trump’s furious response and his effort to depict urban America as sliding into violent anarchy, pushed some big companies to publicly voice support for BLM’s goals and condemn structural racism.

Then came Trump’s months-long GOP-backed effort to overturn the election, followed by his incitement of the violent storming of the Capitol, which prompted dozens of companies to issue statements siding with democracy.

Now over a dozen companies have defended voting rights amid the latest GOP voter suppression wave. But in the backlash to that voter suppression, we’re seeing a convergence of several cultural pushes, against both pernicious structural racism and in defense of democracy.

It’s hard to imagine we’d be seeing this level of corporate pushback right now without all that backstory — which Trump prodded along. As Green notes, Trump’s “racially divisive presidency” is forcing corporations to “take sides or endure brand-destroying boycotts,” which could further cleave the GOP from its traditional “pro-business suburban voters.”

We’ve been here before

All this has historical precedent. Julian Zelizer, the author of a history of the civil rights era, points out that during that period’s conflicts, big business interests sometimes had to navigate a need to pick sides.

When elites in Atlanta were resisting celebrating Martin Luther King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, the Atlanta-based Coca Cola — which recently condemned the Georgia law — insisted the ceremony must go forward, aiding the city’s evolution.

Though this was hardly uniformly admirable, some local business figures in other big southern cities pushed others to racially integrate faster, before the Civil Rights Act passed, Zelizer says.

“There was a feeling of inevitability,” Zelizer tells me, adding that business interests worried that Jim Crow was “hurting the image of the region.”

We may be seeing similar dynamics underway right now. And the GOP is on the wrong side of them — in no small part thanks to Trump.

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