Big Business & Far Right Ideology

At a press breakfast this morning, Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue suggested that sitting down and shutting up might be a good new agenda for Ted Cruz to pursue. This comes a few days after one of the Chamber’s top political strategists, Scott Reed, suggested the Chamber would become actively involved in Tea Party primary challenges defending mainstream or non-clinical Republicans against Tea Party challengers – and perhaps vice versa.

But is this really going to happen? Is the Chamber of Commerce really going to try to take out Ted Cruz and Mike Lee type radicals or defend mainstream incumbents against their future doppelgängers? Since 2010 we’ve only seen vague talk along these lines. But what happens here goes to a much deeper question about the ideological tendencies of big business at this moment in American history. I suspect 20 and 75 years from now there will be fascinating sociological and historical studies of just this question. But even now we can take a stab at the question.

The Chamber, while always inherently a right-leaning organization, was not always so clearly an adjunct of the Republican party as it became under Tom Donohue. Donohue cannot be that far from retirement and I understand there’s some active discussion within the organization about whether the organization’s next head should be such an avowed partisan. But this isn’t a matter of personalities. The increasing partisanship of business money has been a trend going back more than 30 years. The period before that was a relatively short one in which big business was a key component of the post-War World II national political consensus. But as John Judis has argued, the history of elites and organized money in American history is not simply one of funding conservatism and protecting entrenched wealth. Elites and organized wealth have been critical components of many important reform coalitions.

So what is happening today? There’s little question that as wealth has become more stratified and held at larger sums in fewer hands it has also become increasingly insecure or, perhaps better to say, conscious and protective of its privileges. That has meant more politically active in partisan terms and increasingly supportive of hard right conservatism. No one thinks the Chamber is going liberal or in any sense reformist. The question here is whether what has amounted to a ‘no enemies to the right’ strategy for mainstream big business has effectively run its course as a political strategy. After all, when you have a caucus in the House repeatedly threatening global financial catastrophe and shaving thick slices of GDP off the country’s books, that’s a problem.

My hunch is that the rightward valence of contemporary conservatism and the Republican party – the ideological path of least resistance, if you will – will make this shift a very big challenge.

This will be one of the most interesting questions of the 2014 cycle.