This is much more than a baseball brawl.
As a matter of political symbolism, the decision to yank the All-Star Game from Atlanta is an attention-grabbing shot in the culture wars. After all, Major League Baseball acted the day after President Biden told ESPN he’d back such a protest against Georgia’s new voting law, and Donald Trump immediately demanded a boycott of baseball.
But there’s a much deeper dynamic at play here: Major parts of corporate America are increasingly at odds with the Republican Party.
For decades, the two were practically synonymous. The biggest American companies were happy to open their coffers to GOP candidates who supported tax cuts, less government spending and reduced regulation.
Country-club Republicans were pretty much in charge—what’s good for General Motors and all that—and that was symbolized by John Boehner when he was House speaker. In his new memoir, Boehner admits his power was ebbing when he couldn’t convince freshman members to compromise on legislation:
“Ronald Reagan used to say something to the effect that if I get 80 or 90 percent of what I want, that’s a win. These guys wanted 100 percent every time. In fact, I don’t think that would satisfy them, because they didn’t really want legislative victories. They wanted wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades.”
But as the party moved right under Trump, the Democrats moved left—and the corporate world began to evolve. Some of the changes started earlier, when big companies decided that affirmative action and gay rights were good for business. The racial protests and rioting that followed the killing of George Floyd also changed their behavior. And especially as Big Tech firms joined the mix, CEOs became more sensitive to demands for social justice.
Major Georgia employers, led by Delta and Coca-Cola, under pressure from civil rights activists, have launched a public relations campaign against the voting law signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.
As the New York Times points out, “Taking a stand on voting rights legislation thrusts companies into partisan politics and pits them against Republicans who have proven willing to raise taxes and enact onerous regulations on companies that cross them politically.”
And they have retaliated. The George House voted to repeal a tax break on jet fuel that benefited Delta after the airline’s baseball stance, just as the legislature had killed a tax break in 2018 when Delta broke with the NRA in the wake of the Parkland high school shooting.
Now I can’t claim to be shocked that local politicians punish private firms that do things they don’t like, but this is a particularly raw exercise of power.
Trump, in his statement, also urged his supporters to boycott Coke, Delta and a list of other corporations opposing similar proposals in other states. Marco Rubio backed the boycott, calling the airline and the soda company “woke corporate hypocrites.” So it’s clear the lockstep alliance between Republicans and their traditional business allies is kaput.
Now I can’t imagine that millions of conservatives are going to boycott every company on the list, or even baseball itself. But Trump did some damage to the NFL with his attacks on the anthem protests.
If Trump were still in the White House, this would be the lead story every hour. But how much media attention should be devoted to these pronouncements by a former president? It’s certainly gotten more than Barack Obama backing MLB’s move, given Trump’s enormous influence on the Republican Party.
The shifting of the game will cost Atlanta about $100 million in tourism proceeds, so this is no mere slap on the wrist.
At the same time, some of what Biden has been saying about the Georgia voting restrictions goes too far. After an initial wave of positive coverage, the Washington Post gave Biden four Pinocchios for claiming that the law mandates that all polling places close at 5 p.m.
Deeper reporting has found that while the Georgia law improves some things, such as an extra Saturday of early voting, it does make mail balloting more onerous by requiring identification.
Gone are the days when athletic contests were an oasis from cultural combat. Sports and politics are now inextricably linked, no matter who is president. And big corporations are more interesting in scoring points with the left than could have been imagined a decade ago.