Bookman: Ga. Chamber signs on to GOP’s new love of tariffs, free money

September 12, 2019 9:14 am

Jon Ossoff needed 50% of the vote in a seven-way race to avoid a runoff and win the right to face Republican Senator David Perdue in the fall – something even he said earlier would be “a historic, herculean and unprecedented achievement.” Joe Raedle/Getty Images

When Democrat Jon Ossoff announced this week that he will run against incumbent David Perdue for the U.S. Senate next year, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Georgia Chamber of Commerce were ready to pounce.

Citing a poll they commissioned earlier this year in Georgia, the two groups pointed out that Ossoff’s name recognition remains low statewide even after the millions of dollars in advertising spent in his narrow congressional loss in 2017. It then concluded dismissively that “Ossoff is just another second-tier Democratic candidate who would be a clear underdog to Sen. David Perdue.”

Maybe, but that’s a lot of attention they’re paying to that second-stringer.

The chambers also touted Perdue’s standing in that poll, claiming that 48% of Georgia voters approve of the job he’s doing while just 39% disapprove. Furthermore, it pointed out, “The senator has a 49% approval rating among white women with college degrees, a crucial swing vote in Georgia.”

White women with college degrees are indeed a crucial swing vote, not just in Georgia but nationwide. And if the chamber poll is accurate about Perdue’s current standing with that group, it will be interesting to see what happens in a campaign that becomes a referendum on President Donald Trump, whom Perdue lavishes with endless praise. In the most recent Fox News poll, 54% of white women with college degrees now say they strongly disapprove of the president; just 33% say they strongly approve.

For now, though, the topic that interests me isn’t Perdue’s polling numbers or Ossoff’s credentials as a candidate. Instead, I’m curious about the wisdom and long-term stability of the business community’s decision to throw itself so head-long and early into the Republican column.

The Republican Party has long been the party of business, of course, but a few things have changed. Country-club Republicans were once a party mainstay – now the term is considered an insult. Republicans once defended certainty and moderation, which business is said to treasure. Whatever else today’s GOP may represent, certainty and moderation ain’t it.

The new GOP is now the party of tariffs, not free trade, and the Federal Reserve that the business community has long defended as a bulwark against inflation is now under attack by a president who is literally demanding free money. Corporate America knows that climate change is real, and in many cases poses a threat to their business unless addressed. And of course, the values of diversity and tolerance that corporations strive to project to their customers and to their own workforce are directly contradicted by their support for a party that treats those values with such scorn.

There are signs that the strain is being recognized. Look at Walmart, curtailing ammunition sales and leading a corporate movement to bar open carry of firearms in its stores. Look at the major corporate advertisers that no longer do business with Fox News because they don’t want to be associated with the themes preached on that network. Overall, as the Republican Party evolves toward a largely rural and exurban party that is increasingly unpopular among younger Americans, it’s hard to see where the interests of the GOP’s Trumpian base line up with those of modern business.

(Yes, they’ll always have tax cuts. But with the economy slowing and showing no sign of the promised 4-5% annual growth, I doubt that will be a popular message.)

Remember, American politics is a pendulum, and the harder you yank it in one direction, the harder it will swing back the opposite way. At the moment, it has swung very hard to the right, but a reaction is coming as it always does. And when it turns, when that swing comes, it might be smart to have a few friends on the other side.

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Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman

Jay Bookman covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He has been awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing, and is the only two-time winner of the Pulliam Fellowship granted by the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also the author of "Caught in the Current," published by St. Martin's Press.