Inside Big Business’s Plan to Beat the Tea Party

Frustrated trade groups think they may have a way to counteract the tea party’s influence: Act more like it.

Demonstrators with the Tea Party hold a sign directed at Speaker of the House John Boehner during a protest against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeting of the Tea Party and similar groups during a rally called "Audit the IRS" outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, June 19, 2013. 
AFP/Getty Images
Alex Roarty
See more stories about...
Alex Roarty
Oct. 17, 2013, 1 a.m.

The Re­pub­lic­an Party no longer listens to big busi­ness. Amer­ica’s well-heeled chief ex­ec­ut­ives don’t want to hear this, but after help­lessly watch­ing the law­makers whose cam­paigns they fun­ded close the gov­ern­ment and drive the na­tion to­ward calam­it­ous de­fault, the busi­ness sec­tor — along with its trade groups in Wash­ing­ton — is start­ing to ad­mit it has lost its in­flu­ence. Now, it’s search­ing for a plan.

“We’re get­ting out­worked and out­muscled by a fac­tion of ideo­lo­gic­al act­iv­ism that we “¦ don’t un­der­stand the way we used to un­der­stand the cham­ber-of-com­merce Re­pub­lic­an,” said Dav­id French, a seni­or vice pres­id­ent at the Na­tion­al Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion. French and oth­er busi­ness-sec­tor lob­by­ists are not simply frus­trated; they’re down­right per­plexed by a creature they view as ex­treme and im­prac­tic­al.

But private-sec­tor in­terests — from the fin­an­cial in­dustry and re­tail­ers to de­fense con­tract­ors — see the path ahead as a mine­field. Not only do the tea-party voters who sent the no-com­prom­ise Re­pub­lic­ans to the House view na­tion­al busi­ness groups like the NRF or the cham­ber as “es­tab­lish­ment,” but sup­port­ing a chal­lenger will back­fire if the in­cum­bent pre­vails.

So they’re talk­ing about tak­ing an ap­proach with a smal­ler foot­print, about re­gain­ing lever­age in GOP circles by en­cour­aging grass­roots busi­ness act­iv­ism. That means get­ting loc­al (and polit­ic­ally mod­er­ate) busi­ness own­ers to pres­sure their tea-party law­makers to­ward ne­go­ti­ation and com­prom­ise, and nudging these loc­al (and more polit­ic­ally mod­er­ate) busi­ness lead­ers to run for of­fice them­selves. Any­thing, lob­by­ists and Re­pub­lic­an strategists say, to cre­ate the im­pres­sion that this is an or­gan­ic de­vel­op­ment — that Wash­ing­ton and na­tion­al busi­ness in­terests are keep­ing their heavy hands out of the dis­tricts. “It has to be more ef­fect­ively run out of com­munit­ies and dis­tricts, as op­posed to out of Wash­ing­ton,” French said. “It’s in­cum­bent on the busi­ness com­munity to get more in­volved so that there’s a broad­er base of sup­port than who might nor­mally be con­sidered es­tab­lish­ment.”

The mod­el for that kind of cam­paign move­ment is the tea party it­self, whose largely or­gan­ic groundswell in 2009 paved the way for the elec­tion of many of the House and Sen­ate mem­bers now ter­ror­iz­ing the busi­ness com­munity. “We’re get­ting these loc­al cham­bers a lot more in­volved in the fed­er­a­tion. They’re a lot more in­volved in the policy dis­cus­sions,” said Scott Reed, seni­or polit­ic­al strategist for the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce. “And they’re go­ing to be mak­ing some de­cisions on polit­ics.”

While this strategy might — might — help keep an “es­tab­lish­ment” tag from drag­ging down a busi­ness-friendly can­did­ate, there’s ample reas­on for skep­ti­cism. Act­iv­ists, by their nature, are far more en­gaged in polit­ics, and ask­ing more-cau­tious, prag­mat­ic busi­ness own­ers to sud­denly rise up against ul­tracon­ser­vat­ive law­makers could be a stretch. (Be­sides, Wash­ing­ton Re­pub­lic­ans cer­tainly know that many loc­ally fo­cused busi­ness own­ers, angry about the fail­ure of tax re­form and ir­rit­ated by new re­quire­ments un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act, have some stake in sup­port­ing the tea party.)

That’s why some or­gan­iz­a­tions are de­clin­ing to de­lude them­selves, even if their own plans to deal with the tea party amount to little more than white-board brain­storm­ing. Some Re­pub­lic­an op­er­at­ives have sug­ges­ted fun­nel­ing money in­to su­per PACs ded­ic­ated to back­ing only busi­ness-friendly Re­pub­lic­ans, with the aim of dis­guising the money’s ori­gin. That might pre­vent the kind of tea-party-versus-es­tab­lish­ment con­flict that busi­ness groups would be destined to lose. “You go find a will­ing bil­lion­aire and you’re off to the races,” said one former polit­ic­al strategist with a big-busi­ness trade group.

In­deed, money might ul­ti­mately be the only ef­fect­ive lever for many busi­ness groups — that is, if they spend it in a more tar­geted fash­ion and avoid the tempta­tion, fueled by a sea­son of fisc­al ir­rit­a­tion, to simply stop con­trib­ut­ing in large quant­it­ies to the GOP um­brella groups that need them: the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee and the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee. “I would hate to be [NR­CC Chair­man] Greg Walden or any of those people over there try­ing to raise money,” said the former big-busi­ness op­er­at­ive. The op­er­at­ive ad­ded that he’s “already circled the day of Nov. 15 on the cal­en­dar,” when the NR­CC’s Oc­to­ber dona­tions are due to be re­por­ted. Echoed French, “One likely by-product of this con­ver­sa­tion is for donors in busi­ness circles to just throw up their hands and give up and walk away.”

An NR­CC aide re­jects the idea that the cam­paign com­mit­tees will be pun­ished. “While [busi­ness in­terests] have every right to be frus­trated with ex­treme wings of both parties, I think at end of the day, they’ll come home to House Re­pub­lic­ans, be­cause we are the last line of de­fense when it comes to block­ing reg­u­la­tions and policies that will severely im­pact their bot­tom line,” the aide said. Sure, busi­ness lead­ers know their quar­rels are with a just few dozen of the most con­ser­vat­ive law­makers of Con­gress. They also still prefer the GOP’s an­ti­tax, an­ti­reg­u­la­tion agenda to the Demo­crats’ philo­sophy.

But the busi­ness sec­tor is op­er­at­ing with a fresh sense of ur­gency. So while some op­er­at­ives think hard-line con­ser­vat­ives will feel pres­sure only after true and tra­gic calam­ity ac­tu­ally en­sues (“It’s about their con­stitu­ents start­ing to feel a sig­ni­fic­ant amount of eco­nom­ic pain as a res­ult of their ac­tions,” one busi­ness lob­by­ist said), cor­por­a­tions are real­iz­ing they don’t have the lux­ury, or the stom­ach, to wait those voters out.

What We're Following See More »
UTAH REPUBLICAN
Former Sen. Bob Bennett Dies at 82
28 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

Former Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Bennett was defeated in a primary in 2010 by Tea Party–backed Mike Lee.

Source:
GOOGLE SEARCHES SPIKE
Libertarians Getting a Second Look?
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
VEEPSTAKES
Trump Floats Gingrich, Kasich as Running Mates
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

Newt Gringrich is actively positioning himself as a possible VP nominee for Donald Trump, according to National Review. After a New York Times piece mentioned him as a possible running mate, he said, "It is an honor to be mentioned. We need a new Contract with America to outline a 100-day plan to take back Washington from the lobbyists, bureaucrats, unions, and leftists. After helping in 1980 with Reagan and 1995 as speaker I know we have to move boldly and decisively before the election results wear off and the establishment starts fighting us. That is my focus." Meanwhile, Trump told CNN he'd be "interested in vetting" John Kasich as well.

NO MORE CUTS
House Dems Push on Puerto Rico, Citing Zika
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

"House Democrats are stepping up pressure on Republicans to advance legislation addressing Puerto Rico’s worsening debt crisis by issuing a report arguing that austerity cuts can’t be sustained and have made the island more vulnerable to the mosquito-borne Zika virus." Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee released a report yesterday that argued "further sharp reductions in government spending can’t be a part of a legislative solution"—especially with a rainy season boosting the mosquito population and stressing an island health system already struggling to deal with the Zika virus.

Source:
USING LOCAL CELLS
Clapper: ISIS Can Stage Attacks in U.S.
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"ISIS has the capability to stage a Paris-style attack in the U.S. using local cells to strike in multiple locations and inflict dozens of casualties, according to the Obama administration's top U.S. intelligence official." Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN's Peter Bergen that such a scenario is "something we worry about a lot in the United States, that they could conjure up a raid like they did in Paris or Brussels."

Source:
×