Of all the gestures of revulsion that followed Donald Trump’s January 6 assault, the corporate boycott on Republicans who refused to accept the election results was the most transparently short-lived. To be sure, when a slew of major corporations announced earlier this year they would suspend donations to those members of Congress who opposed certification of the election, they probably experienced sincere feelings of patriotic indignation.
But the boycott was intended to be temporary — premised on the expectation that the handful of bad boys singled out for punishment would be isolated and perhaps removed, allowing the donor community to resume its productive alliance with the Grand Old Party. In the meantime, it profited both sides to play up their feud — Republicans could “use corporations’ preference for the Democrat [sic] Party to drive individual donations,” as one Republican strategy memo urged, while corporations could pander to their disproportionately young and well-educated target audience.
Now the pretend feud is ending. “Interviews with about a half-dozen GOP-connected lobbyists reveal that the results of the off-year election bode well for the party’s fundraising from companies that had soured on giving after Jan. 6,” reports Hailey Fuchs. “Some corporations are moving to resume relationships with members from whom they had distanced themselves about a year ago.”
It’s definitely not the case that the corporations are resuming their giving because the problem has been solved. By any measure, the problem is dramatically worse now than it was at the beginning of the year. The Republicans who vocally denounced Trump’s attempted coup are facing purges, while those who supported the coup are getting bolder.
Indeed, the power dynamic between the corporations and the pro-coup Republicans has inverted completely. “Some said Republicans remain frustrated with the corporate community for villainizing members who objected to the Electoral College certification,” reports Fuchs. “But [Republican lobbyist Brian] Ballard, for one, said, ‘time heals all.’” Notice it’s the corporations that suspended their giving to members of Congress who tried to block the election result who are being treated as the accused, and the Trumpists now sitting in the position to act as judge and jury. They may forgive the gestures of defiance. But there will be a price.
What has changed is that all sides now expect Republicans to win control of Congress. It was one thing to boycott the minority party in Congress for its refusal to abide by the essential norms underpinning democratic government. But if authoritarian maniacs have gained power, then they need to be placated and dealt with.
A strain of optimistic anti-Trump conservatives like Ross Douthat have always insisted his threat was contained, because the party had both the desire and the capacity to resist his dictatorial impulses. But the truth is that the Republican appetite to push back on Trump was always predicated on his lack of power. Corporations and other elites were hesitant to jump fully into bed with him because he seemed from the outset to be a likely one-term president. They were temporarily eager to exile him at a moment when it seemed he would be defeated permanently. But as the prospects of Trump gaining power go up, so too does the incentive of his erstwhile partners to conspire with him and share in the spoils of power.
Last time, they assumed the people who kept the Trump stink off them would be seen in the end as the real winners. Next time, they might calculate otherwise.