Republicans Love Corporations… Until They Get ‘Woke’

But there are reasons to think this beef may be overblown.
May 11, 2021, 3:04pm

Republicans are feuding with one of their oldest friends: Corporate America. But it may be more for show than either side wants to let on.

They’re sparring over voting rights, as corporations speak out against GOP efforts to pass state laws that limit access to mail-in ballots, early voting, drive-through voting, and ballot drop-boxes. That includes big companies like Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola, Amazon, and Google. 

Advertisement

Hundreds of companies signed a statement vowing to oppose “any discriminatory legislation” that makes it harder for people to vote. Republicans are firing back by slamming “woke” corporations and, in a few cases, threatening to revoke tax breaks or other advantages.

Yet there are reasons to think this beef between the two former BFFs is overblown. For one thing, there may not be much either side can really do to the other. 

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas penned a scathing op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in late April, slamming “woke CEOs” as fair-weather friends to Republicans—and threatening revenge.

“This time, we won’t look the other way on Coca-Cola’s $12 billion in back taxes owed,” Cruz wrote. “This time, when Major League Baseball lobbies to preserve its multibillion-dollar antitrust exception, we’ll say no thank you. This time, when Boeing asks for billions in corporate welfare, we’ll simply let the Export-Import Bank expire.”

But Republicans can’t slap new federal taxes or regulations on businesses because they’re no longer calling the shots in Washington after losing the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives in the 2020 elections. And raising taxes on businesses… goes against the brand identity they’ve spent decades building.

Corporations, meanwhile, have good reasons to cast themselves as woke corporate justice warriors that don’t involve actual social justice. Like sniffing a profit. 

Advertisement

Companies are under pressure to take stands on social issues from their customer base and their employees, which are generally younger and more diverse than the GOP base. 

A majority of GOP voters are white (86 percent) and more than 50 years old (62 percent), according to APVoteCast, a national survey of the electorate in 2020

Blue America is where corporations are making money. Counties that voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 election make up some 71 percent of economic activity in the U.S., according to the Brookings Institution.

These competing forces help explain some of the zig-zags on both sides of the GOP-Corporations fight. 

When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned corporations to “stay out of politics” in April, he checked himself, saying he didn’t mean their donations. He later walked back the warning altogether

And Delta Airlines’ stance against Georgia’s new voting law, which among other things makes it a crime to give water to someone waiting in line to vote, is more convoluted than it might first appear. 

Delta spoke out against the law only after it passed—and several days after releasing a statement praising some parts of the bill. 

And after former President Donald Trump called for a boycott of Delta and other companies that opposed the Georgia voting law, Delta pointedly didn’t sign on to a national statement vowing to oppose “any discriminatory legislation” that would make it harder for people to vote.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the company didn’t need to repeat itself.

“I agree, in terms of the tone and the context, of what that statement was, but we didn’t feel the need to go out, yet again, with that same theme,” Bastian told CNBC.  

The company’s zig-zagging shows how Corporate America may want to speak out on big social issues when they think it’s what their customers or employees want to hear—but then keep their heads down when the controversy gets too hot.