Top conservatives keep agreeing with progressives on business issues
Rubio agrees with AOC. Hawley agrees with Warren. Why Democrats and Republicans are finding common ground, but for completely different reasons
Amazon workers in Alabama pushing to unionize have the support of progressive Democrats like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri, and as of Friday, it’s now bipartisan. In an op-ed published in USA Today, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., came out in support of the workers.
Rubio noted in his piece it might seem unusual for a Republican — “Republicans have rightly understood the dangers posed by the unchecked influence of labor unions,” he wrote — but he said his support was driven by the culture wars.
“Here’s my standard: When the conflict is between working Americans and a company whose leadership has decided to wage culture war against working-class values, the choice is easy — I support the workers,” he wrote. Rubio said while he disagrees with Democratic efforts to protect the right to organize, he supports efforts to reform organizing and collective bargaining.
It’s the latest example of lawmakers from different parties aligning on business-related issues, but for different reasons, and suggests that changes in Republican orthodoxy could be driven in part by cultural issues.
Rubio wrote in his op-ed that Amazon is an ally to the left in the culture wars, hurting small businesses with anticompetitive tactics and banning books by conservatives authors, but that the company turns to conservatives when its bottom line is threatened. He suggested the right has been used, and enough is enough. “The days of conservatives being taken for granted by the business community are over,” Rubio wrote.
“If Amazon thinks that conservatives will automatically rally to do its bidding after proving itself to be such enthusiastic culture warriors, it is sorely mistaken,” he said.
Breaking up big tech companies is another issue with a culture wars angle that lawmakers with diverging politics agree on. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called for breaking up Amazon, Google, and Facebook in 2019 during her presidential campaign. Her proposal included designating companies with global revenue of $25 billion or more as “platform utilities” that would be barred from sharing data with third parties, and breaking up mergers, like Amazon and Whole Foods or Facebook and Instagram. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said during his speech at Conservative Political Action Conference last month that big tech companies should be broken up “in the name of the rule of the people,” and he’s introduced legislation including the “Bad Ads” Act to curb targeted digital advertising.
While Democrats and Republicans alike have criticized tech companies for having too much power and for being anti-competitive, Hawley introduced legislation in 2019 to remove libel immunity for social media companies accused of political censorship, an issue that’s concerned conservatives despite conservative content performing well online. In his CPAC speech, Hawley connected the fight with tech companies to pushing back against “the liberal elite.”
These Republican shifts feel indebted in part to growing income inequality and public opinion. A 2019 Pew poll found 48% of Republicans believe most business corporations make too much profit, and 66% believe business and technology leaders don’t understand problems that people like them face.
The legacy of former President Donald Trump also plays a role. Trump bucked Republican opposition to tariffs while in office and frequently tweeted his thoughts and criticism of companies. Trump also said he and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had similar views on trade.
Trump’s high approval rating among Republicans while in office proved that hewing to traditional attitudes on business issues isn’t make-or-break for many Republican voters. Post-Trump, Republican views on these and other business-related issues could be up in the air. There’s also a historic parallel.
During Hawley’s CPAC speech, he connected his call to break up tech companies with the Republican Party’s historic legacy of trustbusting. It was an allusion to Teddy Roosevelt, whose administration broke up oil and railroad monopolies under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act while president.
“The Republican Party, once upon a time, we were the party of trustbusters,” Hawley said. “I mean, we invented the concept, basically. It’s time to reclaim that legacy.”