Have Republicans Finally Gone Too Far, Even for Corporate America?

Not only the Democrats, but corporate America is getting fed up with rightwing Republicans, exposing a crack in the longtime relationship between the GOP and the business world over companies opposing restricting minorities from voting.

Donald Trump, who led the way championing physical limits on voting with his repeated lies about a “rigged” and fraudulent presidential election, called for a boycott of companies that are against curtailing the ability to vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned them to stay out of politics but, uhm, to keep donating.

Corporate America, which long has sided with Republicans who have given it tax breaks and deregulation in return for their donations, may be turning away from the GOP and the extremism that flared under Trump. It’s become a party of an alternative reality that just doesn’t carry water in the corporate world.

Since Georgia passed its law cutting back on when and how people can vote, some of America’s biggest corporations woke up and realized the abrogation of citizen rights such as the fundamental act of casting a ballot can be injurious to their financial health. Black and Brown people and other minorities, a fast-growing segment of the population, also are their paying customers, not only Whites.

One of the ideals in this country is to encourage people to vote, not make it difficult for them, for whatever reason. And younger voters especially cotton onto this and largely are against Republican efforts to limit voting for minorities, who usually cast their ballots for Democrats.

Companies are eager to appeal to these minorities, who are the wave of America’s future and are expected to surpass Whites as the majority by 2045. The U.S. Census Bureau projected in January 2020 that the majority of the nation’s 74 million children would be nonwhite by the middle of last year.

So many TV ads today feature people of color, a sure fire recognition that they are becoming a dominant force, personally and financially. Republicans appeal to an older White demographic.

Many in the corporate world have taken a stand against limiting voting, knowing full well what most of us already know: Republicans want to keep Democratic Party voters away from the polls. If the Republicans can’t attract voters with their ideas and policies, the alternative is to keep them from voting if they want to win elections.

Trump admitted as much in March 2020 in opposing a Democratic-led effort to make voting easier by using the mail, early balloting and same-day registration, which was included in the first pandemic stimulus package. It was dropped.

“The things they had in there were crazy,” he said of the bill. “They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Hundreds of companies and executives that include biggies like Amazon, Starbucks, General Motors, Google, Netflix, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and even Warren Buffet, head of Berkshire Hathaway, endorsed a statement earlier this month condemning legislation by states that restricts voting.

“It should be clear that there is overwhelming support in corporate America for the principle of voting rights,” The New York Times quoted Kenneth Chenault as saying.

A former chief executive of American Express, he and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of the Merck pharmaceutical company, organized the signing of the statement, the Times reported. It appeared earlier this month in ads in the Times and The Washington Post.

The statement, headlined “We Stand for Democracy,” said, “For American democracy to work for any of us, we must ensure the right to vote for all of us. We all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”

Further, the Times reported that the heads of 30 of Michigan’s biggest companies released a statement opposing changes in the state’s election laws as its Senate prepares to conduct hearings on voting bills. Ford, GM and Quicken Loans were among them.

Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola launched the corporate opposition toward voting limitations when they condemned Georgia’s law that restricts the number of drop boxes, limits who can vote with provisionary ballots and forbids giving food or water to voters waiting in line.

Even Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game out of Atlanta, Georgia’s biggest city. What’s more American than baseball?

“It’s not difficult to see why tensions have risen as Republicans have increasingly embraced an angry, racist nationalism and an anti-democratic ethos,” Andrew Gawthorpe, an historian of the United States at Leiden University in the Netherlands, wrote in an opinion piece in the Guardian.

“Doing so,” he wrote, “has put them at odds with the young and value-conscious Americans who fuel sales of America’s biggest brands. Companies that want to attract younger consumers and employees have flexed their power in response.”

The risk, of course, is that Trump stalwarts will turn against the companies for crossing him. Some will, of course. But I believe attitudes may be changing with Biden in the White House and showing things are getting done for the people.

Corporations are a power to be reckoned with and can exert a positive influence on the crucial issue of injustice toward minorities. They are a source of money that help keep political parties alive.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.