Editorial: Business Backlash; Tea Party’s Benefactors Reconsider

It has been hard to find much of anything edifying in this month’s government shutdown and potential debt default, but those with a taste for irony could at least savor last week’s New York Times report that prominent members of the business community are becoming increasingly disaffected with their former darlings, the Mad Hatter wing of the Republican Party.

According to the Times, some business leaders and lobbying organizations have been so seriously alarmed by the shutdown and especially the threat of default that they are considering financing primary challenges to the most intransigent members of the House Tea Party caucus.

For example, David French, top lobbyist at the National Retail Federation, told the Times that, “We are looking for ways to counter the rise of an ideological brand of conservatism that, for lack of a better word, is more anti-establishment than it has been in the past.”

Indeed, much as business interests may agree that federal spending has to be slashed and that Obamacare has to be rolled back, they view a government shutdown and threatened debt default as a high risk strategy that probably won’t work.

Of course, to some degree, business groups have themselves to blame for laying the groundwork for this month’s stalemate in Washington. That is, default lies not in the stars, but in themselves. After the 2010 elections, they lavished millions of dollars on Republican redistricting efforts. This led to the creation of more congressional districts that are not only safely Republican, but such conservative strongholds that party moderates are unable to compete. Thus the Tea Party members, regarding themselves as invulnerable to a challenge, have no reason to carry water for their business benefactors or to subordinate their ideological crusade to their interests. Any attempt to finance a primary election challenge is likely to backfire with the populist grass-roots from which the hardest of hard-line conservatives draw their support.

To compound the folly, business contributions in the 2012 election cycle accrued overwhelmingly to Republicans. The American Banking Association, for instance, allocated 80 percent of its $2.6 million in political action committee donations to Republicans, only to find itself last week pleading on Capitol Hill for a deal to avoid default and warning that ordinary Americans would bear the brunt of the damage if it was not averted.

They should have seen it coming. Although it chafes at regulation and taxation, business prizes stability, predictability and a dependable legal system above all else. The Tea Partiers represent the antithesis of business as usual. Their project is creating a continuous uproar, and their ends are ultimately nihilistic. That is, if they cannot prevail ideologically, they would prefer to pull the temple down around their heads. We are pretty confident in saying that this is no prescription for making money, which is, after all, what business is all about.

Business is hardly the first group to regret having helped create a monster, and no doubt will not be the last. But the current debacle reinforces the wisdom of being careful what you wish for.