Donald Trump vs. Big Business: The GOP’s Civil War

July 6, 2016

by Danny Cannon


Donald Trump (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

The US Chamber of Commerce is upset. For years, they have shaped Republican policy, spending millions of dollars trying to push the Republican Party towards a business-first economic message that seems incapable of talking about anything but “job creators.” The most special of special interests, the Chamber is by far the largest lobbying organization in the United States, generally backing “pro-business” Republicans who they think will fight for their goals above all else. They find social conservatism distasteful at best, and a liability to their supposedly winning economic message at worst — a message which has nevertheless struggled to secure any wins. In 2012, Mitt Romney was crippled by his inability to make economic appeals to anyone not already represented by the Chamber.

And now, in 2016, there’s Donald Trump. The presumptive Republican nominee disagrees with the Chamber on nearly every issue. Worse still, he has spent his campaign railing against the lobbyist-owned Republican establishment the Chamber has spent millions over the years to create. Now, the Chamber spends its time live-tweeting critiques of Trump’s trade policy speeches, clearly miffed that the Republican nominee doesn’t ask for their edits beforehand.

The growing rift within the Republican Party is often blamed on the Tea Party, or on Trump, but it has existed for years, exacerbated by the Chamber’s influence. They are the reason many Republican elites fail to offer anything to the middle class except a vague suggestion that workers’ economic prospects might improve if only their bosses were richer. Big Business not only sees this as sufficient policy — it insists it is a winning message. If Republicans just stick to the “help business” spiel, they claim, and avoid talking about social issues, victory will be the inevitable result.

For this reason, the Chamber-owned Republican elite have moved to rid themselves of those meddlesome social conservatives, refusing to fight Democrats on social issues if not outright calling for a truce. When Tea Party candidates in 2014 appealed to the voters cast off by the business lobby, the Chamber spent $70 million dollars trying to defeat them. And to accomplish this, the Chamber backed their special brand of ineffectual elites, who care little about religious liberty, or abortion, or sound money, or federalism, but will fight to the death for modest cuts in corporate taxes.

Despite nominally supporting conservatives, the Chamber is not at all tied to conservative principles; their only principle is to amass wealth and influence for the companies they represent. They back Common Core, deeming it the best way to create a “21st century workforce,” if not necessarily good citizens. The corporate interests they represent threaten boycotts in North Carolina for keeping males out of women’s restrooms, or in Georgia for protecting, of all things, the rights of religious business owners. They will tolerate conservative rhetoric so long as it is profitable, and the elite have made it costly not to fall in line with leftist ideology on social issues.

The US Chamber of Commerce, and the business lobby as a whole, has worked hard to cast off the social conservative contingent of the Republican coalition. It has reduced fiscal conservatism to a series of appeals to business interests. The friendship of utility between Big Business and conservatism has become, with the help of the Chamber’s generous funding, the only thing Republican elites seem consistently willing to defend. Donald Trump is right to say that the Chamber is “controlled totally by various groups of people that don’t care about you whatsoever.” How much longer will Republicans consent to be controlled by them as well?

Danny Cannon works for the American Principles Project.


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