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Big Business feels neglected by GOP allies

Associated Press

There are natural constituencies in party politics that have been cultivated for generations. In general, the Democratic coalition includes groups like labor unions and civil rights activists, while the Republican coalition features the NRA and evangelical conservatives.

But on the GOP's side of the divide, there's one powerhouse that's generally dominated: Big Business. Private-sector industry leaders and corporate lobbyists are accustomed to getting their way in Republican politics, and it's precisely why so many deep-pocketed donors spent so heavily in support of GOP candidates in 2010 and 2012, expecting an impressive return on investment.


As the government shutdown grinds toward a potential debt default, some of the country's most influential business executives have come to a conclusion all but unthinkable a few years ago: Their voices are carrying little weight with the House majority that their millions of dollars in campaign contributions helped build and sustain.

Their frustration has grown so intense in recent days that several trade association officials warned in interviews on Wednesday that they were considering helping wage primary campaigns against Republican lawmakers who had worked to engineer the political standoff in Washington.

Such an effort would thrust Washington's traditionally cautious and pragmatic business lobby into open warfare with the Tea Party faction, which has grown in influence since the 2010 election and won a series of skirmishes with the Republican establishment in the last two years.

Well, that would be an interesting twist, wouldn't it? In recent election cycles, Republicans have quietly told backers, "Listen, I don't want to be this ridiculous, but I don't have much of a choice -- a Tea Party primary challenger will force me out."

The New York Times report suggests the major players from the corporate world want to turn this dynamic on its head, telling GOP lawmakers that they have even more to fear from them.

David French, the top lobbyist at the National Retail Federation, told the NYT, "We have come to the conclusion that sitting on the sidelines is not good enough."

If you're thinking this has the potential to get ugly, you're not alone.

I should note that reports like these pop up from time to time, leading to speculation about frayed ties between Big Business and the Republican Party. Let's be clear: this is a long-term partnership, which won't split anytime soon.

Rather, the point is that Big Business wants to reclaim some of its lost influence with the party it calls home.

And really, what choice does the corporate world have? The GOP's antics of late just aren't what Big Business signed up for. Private-sector leaders like the idea of immigration reform, support investments in infrastructure, warned against a government shutdown, and are terrified of a debt-ceiling crisis. Is it any wonder they're wondering what happened to the party they love? And considering steps to fix it?

Joe Echevarria, the chief executive of Deloitte, the accounting and consulting firm, said, "I'm a Republican by definition and by registration, but the party seems to have split into two factions."

I'd say at least two, but the point is well taken. The Republican Party has no leaders, no policy agenda, no real direction, and competing voices whispering in its ear, offering contradictory guidance.

This suits the Tea Party contingent just fine, since it embraces a strange sort of pseudo-populism, and sees a battle against Corporate America Establishment for the soul of the GOP as a great idea.

"There clearly are people in the Republican Party at the moment for whom the business community and the interests of the business community -- the jobs and members they represent -- don't seem to be their top priority," said Dan Danner, the head of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which spearheaded opposition to President Obama's health care law among small businesses. "They don't really care what the N.F.I.B. thinks, and don't care what the Chamber thinks, and probably don't care what the Business Roundtable thinks."

Yep, and now Big Business has to decide what to do about it. The potential for an intra-party civil war looms.