Republicans have declared war on Coca-Cola and baseball
By Michelle Cotle
Are you a Republican voter irked by the state of American politics? If so, party leaders have some exciting marching orders for you: Dump your Diet Coke and shut off that episode of “NCIS” — or whatever ViacomCBS show you may be watching. Cash in your Delta plane tickets, close your Citibank account, flush your Merck meds and tell your kids not to ship you anything via UPS. And, oh, yeah, no patronizing Major League Baseball until further notice. Not the Yankees. Not the Dodgers. Not even the poor Pirates.
These restrictions may sound extreme, especially for a pandemic-weary populace, but they are part of a crucial new front in the culture war, the latest mark of true MAGA patriotism. The Republican Party has declared war on segments of corporate America for daring to protest, through words or, worse still, direct action, the ongoing assault on voting rights, and the troops are being rallied. Starting out, this means boycotts. Sprawling ones. (The hundreds of verboten Coca-Cola products alone are hard to keep track of — Dasani, Vitaminwater, Topo Chico!) But even more sacrifices, and chaos, may be yet to come.
Ordinarily, Republicans enjoy a snuggly relationship with corporate America, which appreciates the party’s tax-slashing, anti-regulatory inclinations. But the GOP’s latest crusade hasn’t been so much pro-business as anti-democratic: pushing hundreds of measures in dozens of states that are expected to make voting more burdensome, especially for poor and minority communities.
In Georgia, for instance, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill last month that contains “16 key provisions that will limit ballot access, potentially confuse voters and give more power to Republican lawmakers,” according to a Times analysis. These include tightening restrictions on absentee voting and making it illegal to provide water to people waiting in line to vote. (It remains unclear when proper hydration became part of a partisan power grab by Democrats.)
This manipulation of the electoral system has sparked a fierce backlash. Activists, including some of Georgia’s faith leaders, have moved to organize boycotts against locally based companies they say did too little to oppose the bill. They also have called on companies to stop donating to lawmakers who backed it.
Prominent executives, some of whom said precious little about the bill before its passage, have been speaking out in recent days. “Let me be crystal clear and unequivocal. This legislation is unacceptable,” James Quincey, CEO of Cola-Cola, told CNBC last week. The CEO of Delta, Ed Bastian, was similarly emphatic. “I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values,” he said in a memo to employees on Wednesday.
On Friday, Major League Baseball turned up the heat, announcing that it is was pulling July’s All-Star Game and the MLB draft out of the state.
It’s a pity that these heavy hitters were not so clear about their objections before the bill passed. It’s easier to stop a noxious law than to repeal one — although the history of so-called bathroom bills shows that a reversal is possible. In 2016, North Carolina legislators passed a measure restricting which public restrooms could be used by transgender people. The legislation spurred widespread pushback. Businesses froze planned investments in the state. Concerts and TV projects were canceled. The NCAA and NBA pulled games. Key elements of the law were repealed in March 2017, and similar efforts were ultimately abandoned in other states.
Determined not to let this happen with their beloved voting restrictions — in Georgia or elsewhere — Republicans are launching a counterpressure campaign. From his Elba-like exile at Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump issued a call on Saturday for the MAGAverse to boycott many of the companies speaking out against the restrictive voting measures.
“Don’t go back to their products until they relent,” he directed. “We can play a better game than them.”
The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, has proclaimed corporations’ meddling “stupid” and released this ominous statement: “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order. Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box.”
What sort of “serious consequences”? Well, some Republican senators are calling to remove pro baseball’s antitrust exemption, and there is talk of punishing other purveyors of “woke capitalism” using tax law. Last Wednesday, the Georgia House voted to strip Delta of a major tax break. With the session ending, the state Senate declined to take up the matter, but the message was clear. Economic blackmail, indeed.
With all the talk of boycotts and other penalties, it is increasingly difficult to know what political statement one would be making by enjoying an ice-cold Fresca. Which is precisely the sort of muddiness and confusion that suits Trump and his merry band of nihilists.
Republicans have made clear that their preferred outcome in this matter is for corporations to shut up and go back to serving as campaign cash machines. During a Monday gripe session about how these businesses should “stay out of politics,” McConnell clarified that he was “not talking about political contributions.” Of course not. Fighting to classify unlimited campaign cash as constitutionally protected speech has been a cornerstone of his political career. In that one area, he is happy for corporate America to sound off all it wants.
As you’d imagine, the late-night comedians are having a field day with this mess. “Republicans say they’re going to boycott baseball,” riffed Jimmy Fallon on Monday. “They’re already boycotting the NFL and the NBA. Soon their only sports will be golf and Jarts.”
Jarts are hilarious. Less so is the saga of how the Republican Party gave up on winning over voters with its ideas and instead adopted an anti-democratic, anti-majoritarian strategy of retaining power.
The right to make one’s voice heard is a fundamental tenet of democracy. Efforts to undermine that right cannot go unchallenged. No matter how confounding the debate gets, the issue is too important for anyone, including America’s corporations, to stay silent.