Unsolved Mysteries of American Politics

Joshua Green has a story in BusinessWeek that touches on a familiar theme:  the declining influence of business interests over the Republican Party.  Green, however, provides some data on the gap that's startling in a number of ways.  The key paragraphs:

It’s hard to find any organization more closely affiliated with the Republican Party than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In 2012 the business trade group spent $35,657,029 on federal elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of that, $305,044 was spent on behalf of Democratic candidates. Last year the Chamber went further to help Republicans than it ever had by running ads directly against candidates: It spent $27,912,717 against Democrats and only $346,298 against Republicans....

All that money ensures a careful hearing when the Chamber wants something from Republicans—but it doesn’t guarantee they’ll listen. On Oct. 1, House Republicans ignored the Chamber’s pleas to keep the government running. The shutdown is costing the U.S. economy $300 million a day, according to IHS, a global market-research firm, and it’s only the latest sign suggesting that the old adage, “Republicans are the party of business,” no longer holds true. From the austerity imposed by sequestration to the refusal to reform immigration laws to the shutdown and now, as appears likely, another debt-ceiling showdown when U.S. borrowing authority expires on Oct. 17, the GOP’s actions have put a strain on one of its most valuable partners: the business community....

Asked by the Associated Press if he had heard business groups express alarm about the economic impact of a shutdown, Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California replied, “No. And it wouldn’t make any difference if I did.”

So, a few reactions to this as a scholar of international relations who pays some attention to American politics:  first, what the f**k is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce thinking

Seriously, I get that, traditionally, Republicans are more business-friendly.  But standard American Politics 101 says that if you're that big of an interest group, you hedge your bets and make sure you have allies in both major parties.  Why has the Chamber of Commerce put all their eggs in a basket that is far from assured of victory? 

Second, given the Chamber of Commerce's tilt, why aren't GOP representatives listening more closely?  Presumably, this is a group that, if alienated, could actually choose to spread their money around more liberally.  Furthermore, over the long-term, I'm not sure the GOP wants to shed the reputation of being the business-friendly party (though, admittedly, there's a distinction to be made about the differences between markets and business that could be developed here). 

I think the answer to the second question is that votes still trump dollars in democratic politics -- and representatives have more to fear from ideological activists than interest group dollars.  Indeed, this Washington Post story from November 2012 suggests that the Chamber of Commerce has been very, very good at making spectacularly bad bets on American elections: 

The Chamber spent nearly $24 million to defeat several high-profile Democratic Senate candidates, including Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio, former governor Timothy M. Kaine in Virginia and Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But out of 15 Senate races where the business organization put down money, only two went the Chamber’s way.

The results were not much better in the House, where the Chamber poured more than $7 million into 22 races, according to the CRP. The Chamber’s candidates picked up only four wins.

This, of course, just brings us back to the first question:  in all seriousness, what he f**k is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce thinking? 

What do you think they're thinking?


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