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GOP Wants Corporations to Shut Up and Put Up

Won’t someone please, please think about poor Mitch McConnell’s feelings?
April 8, 2021
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(Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has reached an important conclusion after surveying all the damage from the aftermath of the 2020 election. He looked at the January 6 Capitol insurrection and the raft of GOP bills to restrict voting based on lies about the election and made an assessment: He and his fellow Republicans are the real victims here.

And there shall be, McConnell says, “consequences” for the “bullying” from “woke” American corporations critical of the GOP’s anti-democratic turn.

Let’s put this in context. For decades, McConnell was an outspoken supporter of corporations’ political expression and expenditure. His name is on the Supreme Court case challenging the campaign-finance law that limited certain kinds of corporate speech; he later praised the Citizens United decision that overturned those limitations. But now he wants corporations to shut up and put up. It’s unfair of them, you see, to criticize Republicans for supporting restrictionist laws based on Trump’s Big Lie about the election.

That’s the intellectual framework President Trump has left the Republican party—totally bent on vengeance and victimhood, and memory-holing the GOP’s democracy-threatening role in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

Yes, it’s a little awkward for McConnell. While he didn’t love the mob’s attack on his place of work, he wasn’t willing to do anything about it, refusing to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial. And he’s not exactly accustomed to taking on big business. In fact, the only thing McConnell has expressed more passion for than confirming judges is ensuring that abundant corporate money could flow into politics.

But trying to map where McConnell lands on the hypocrisy test misses the point.

Everybody who is anybody in MAGA media and Republican politics has given up on all that quaint stuff like free-market economics and the Constitution in favor of grievance and culture wars. McConnell is just keeping up with his party—doing his best to come off as Based Leader. (Think about it as the next iteration of the Darth Vader, Cocaine Mitch, and Grim Reaper silliness that his most ardent fanboys squee over.)

After Delta Airlines, Major League Baseball, and Coca-Cola publicly criticized Georgia’s new voting law, McConnell started throwing out threats. “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order,” he said Monday. “Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box.”

“My warning to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell elaborated to reporters on Tuesday, before clarifying—hilariously hypocritically—“I’m not talking about political contributions.”

What would those “consequences” be?

McConnell didn’t say. By design.

On Wednesday, he awkwardly tried to partially walk back his anti-corporate-speech remarks: “I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. . . . My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill. They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation . . . given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way.”

Or just maybe—and hear me out—it’s not that CEOs are being hoodwinked, or that they are foolishly working against their own best interests (as the Wall Street Journal editorial board avers), but rather that they see clearly that the GOP’s transformation into a party of deceit and anti-democracy is bad for the country, bad for political stability, and therefore bad for business.

The GOP’s new populism isn’t about policy; it’s about power. Mitch McConnell is not giving back any corporate donations. He’s not giving up any of that easy corporate cash. He wants to see if he can make those corporations buckle, and run from Democrats, back into his arms with sweet promises of protecting their low tax rates.

But any American, or American company, can see the consequences of Trump’s Big Lie, which is why we are having this debate in the first place. It led to terrible violence at the Capitol and then a nationwide campaign to restrict voting rights.

Had Republicans acknowledged that the 2020 election was secure and fair, and that Joe Biden was the rightful winner, this discussion would not be happening.

Still, McConnell demands Republicans be treated with more respect! Their victimhood matters much more to them than free and fair elections.

That’s what this is all about.

Amanda Carpenter

Bulwark political columnist Amanda Carpenter is a CNN contributor, author, and former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz and speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint.