“How did corporate America lose control of the Republican Party?” asks Eduardo Porter in the New York Times. His answer: It’s been outspent by ideological donors. My answer is that it hasn’t really lost control of the party.
Here you have to distinguish between narrow business interests and broad business interests. The strongest political interest most businesses will have is with regard to government programs that directly tax or regulate them. Republicans are out there fighting the good fight to protect the coal industry from climate regulations, repeal the tax on medical devices, and keep agriculture subsidies for even affluent owners of farmland.
On the broader set of business interests, you have a more mixed picture. Republicans are still advocating lower taxes for the rich, which includes the owners and managers of businesses. They’re fighting off increases in the minimum wage. Porter links to a Huffington Post story detailing setbacks for the corporate agenda in Washington, but the additional cases here aren’t examples of Republicans ignoring the business agenda. They’re examples of Republicans advocating the business agenda but losing: on Obamacare, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. These are all things the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to stop, and Republicans have tried to stop, but failed.
In all of these traditional, zero-sum policy fights that pit capital against labor, divvy up resources between economic classes, or set limits on externalities like systemic financial risk or pollution, Republicans are still fighting the good fight.
It is true that Republicans haven’t represented the broader interests of business perfectly. Porter cites two issues, immigration reform and transportation spending, where House Republicans have thwarted the preferred business agenda. It is also true that the general atmosphere of chaos and dysfunction, with sequestration and recurrent threats of shutdowns and debt defaults, makes life difficult for business.
The ideal Chamber of Commerce Republican would be more willing to confront the party’s social conservatives and take a more pragmatic attitude toward the functionality of government. Less government sabotage would mean faster economic growth. But it’s not as if the status quo is terrible for businesses. The status quo, while painful for most people, remains pretty good for owners of capital:
So 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.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce centered its strategy in 2012 on maintaining the GOP’s control of the House. (“Our strategy is to protect the pro-business majority in the House,” its spokesman said last year.) “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.