Big business is overwhelmingly in favor of requiring that workers get vaccinated against COVID-19. A recent CNBC survey of chief financial officers found that 80% of them say they “totally support” the Biden administration’s plan to impose a vaccine-or-test mandate on companies with more than 100 workers, and many companies have already announced vaccination requirements for their employees.
Yet Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, just issued an executive order banning vaccine mandates in his state. That is, he’s not just refusing to use his own powers to promote vaccination; he’s interfering in private decisions, trying to prevent businesses from requiring that their workers or customers be vaccinated.
And Sunday, Sen. Ted Cruz celebrated a wave of flight cancellations by Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, based on rumors — which both the airline and its union deny — that the problems were caused by a walkout of employees protesting the airline’s new vaccine requirements.
What’s going on here?
Republicans have been closely allied with big business since the Gilded Age, when a party originally based on opposition to slavery was in effect captured by the rising power of corporations. That alliance lost some of its force in the 1950s and 1960s, an era in which the GOP largely accepted things like progressive taxation and strong labor unions, but came back in full with the rise of Ronald Reagan and his agenda of tax cuts and deregulation.
Indeed, it wasn’t that long ago that you could plausibly think of the Republican Party as basically a front for big-business interests, one that exploited social issues and appeals to racial hostility to win elections, only to turn immediately after each election to a pro-corporate agenda. That was basically the thesis of Thomas Frank’s 2004 book “What’s the Matter With Kansas,” and it seemed like a good model of the party until the rise of Trumpism.
Now, however, Republican politicians are at odds with corporate America on crucial issues. It’s not just vaccines. Corporate interests also want serious investment in infrastructure and find themselves on the outs with Republican leaders who don’t want to see Democrats achieve any policy successes. Basically, the GOP is currently engaged in a major campaign of sabotage — its leaders want to see America do badly because they believe this will redound to their political advantage — and if this hurts their corporate backers along the way, they don’t care.
Just to be clear, corporations aren’t being good guys. They support vaccine mandates and infrastructure investment because they believe that both would be good for their bottom lines. They’re still for the most part opposed to the rest of the Biden agenda, including — unforgivably — efforts to fight climate change, because they don’t want to pay higher taxes.
Still, the conflict between the GOP and corporations is a striking new turn in American politics. And I wonder if some corporate leaders find themselves asking, in the privacy of their own minds, “My God, what have we done?”
For the truth is that the Republican Party has been growing increasingly radical — and decreasingly rational — for a long time. Where we are now is the culmination of a process that began in the 1990s, when Newt Gingrich became House speaker, if not earlier. Yet corporate interests continued to back the GOP. In fact, leading business organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce leaned much further into partisanship even as Republicans became more radical, apparently believing that they could live with a bit of craziness so long as they got their tax cuts and deregulation.
Now they’re learning that they aren’t in control and in fact have barely any voice in the party they bankrolled. They thought they were using the extremists; it turns out that the extremists were using them.
The question is, what are they going to do about it?