Some of the business interests that had abandoned their traditional conservatism to flirt with the Obama agenda may now be shifting back towards the GOP — another sign that the president’s standing is badly weakened a year after taking office.
During 2008 and much of 2009, Obama enjoyed an unusual amount of support for a Democrat from the business community, much of which had grown disillusioned with President Bush and hoped for a return to the steady growth of the Clinton years. But after a string of political setbacks, high-lighted by Scott Brown’s win last month in the Massachusetts Senate race, some key business groups and sectors appear to be shifting back to the GOP column.
Wall Street offers perhaps the most glaring example. During the 2008 election cycle, Democrats took in a record $89 million from the the securities and investment business. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase and a key Obama ally and Democratic donor, exemplified this trend. But this year, with Republicans looking set for big gains in the fall midterms, JP Morgan’s PAC gave $30,000 to the Republican House and Senate campaign committees, while turning down solicitations from the Dems, reports the New York Times.
And a Wall Street Journal report from last week sounded a similar theme: “Through the third quarter, campaign-finance reports show that some major Wall Street players began sending an increasing share of their donations to Republicans,” it found.
“The expectation in Washington is that ‘We can kick you around, and you are still going to give us money,’” one Wall Street honcho told the Times, referring to the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate the financial sector. “We are not going to play that game anymore.”
The Business Roundtable, a lobby group composed of the CEO’s of major corporations, may be undergoing a similar shift. Back in 2007, it had joined some other traditionally conservative business groups in allying with SEIU and AARP to tout the need for health-care reform. More recently, it refused to join the “Start Over” coalition, backed by the Chamber of Commerce, that advocated scrapping the House and Senate reform bills. But last week the Roundtable sounded a far less supportive note in responding to Obama’s budget, charging in a statement that it “will impede economic growth and make it harder to create jobs and lower America’s double-digit unemployment rate.”
There’s also evidence that conservatives who have always opposed Obama and the Democrats may be feeling newly emboldened to put pressure on their one-time allies to come back into the fold. Like the Business Roundtable, the National Federation of Independent Businesses had also been part of the pro-reform coalition. But in late January, Grover Norquist, long seen as the de facto leader of the Beltway conservative movement, told the Tribune newspapers: “Members are wondering why the organization was either AWOL or collaborating for months and months.”
Norquist, who did not return a call for comment, expanded on that theme in an interview with National Journal. “The biggest hole in the center-right bloc is that the NFIB is not being the tribune of the masses,” he said.
But it sounds like Norquist and his friends may not have to worry for too much longer. The response of NFIB president Dan Danner suggested he could tell which way the wind was blowing. He told the Tribune papers that his group was no longer so gung ho on reform, and pointed out that NFIB had sent money and manpower to help Brown in Massachusetts. Nor does Danner seem eager for a fight with conservative leaders. He did not return a request for comment about Norquist’s criticism.