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Mellman: McConnell blasts big business stands

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Greg Nash

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) diatribe against big business could spawn volumes of analysis. The text tells many tales: the frayed coalition between the board room and the pick-up truck, hypocrisy, and more.

What struck me most was the fundamental inaccuracy of nearly every assertion and premise on which McConnell built his remarks.

Start with the simplest: that voting rights is “a highly controversial issue.” It’s not. Most everyone, except Republican officeholders, believes that barriers to citizens voting ought to be dismantled, not erected anew.

Polls show Americans support voting rights legislation by over 50 points, with Republicans favoring it by 35 points and more.

Specific elements of the voting rights agenda elicit margins of 20 to 50 points.

Second, McConnell argued that “Republicans drink Coca-Cola too, and we fly and we like baseball.” While of course nominally true, this assertion misses a critical reality: Democrats, not Republicans, represent America’s economic might.

A Brookings analysis found Joe Biden won 509 counties, in which 71 percent of America’s economic activity takes place, while Donald Trump’s 2,547 counties are home to just 29 percent of the economy.

The dynamism of blue areas is evident from a separate analysis by the Economic Innovation Group which revealed Biden counties accounted for a huge 83 percent of new businesses added to the economy and 73 percent of employment growth since 2010.

By every measure, Trump’s (and McConnell’s) America lags behind economically. Voters there are necessarily purchasing far less Coke and many fewer airline and baseball tickets than those living in blue America.

Which brings us to McConnell labeling businesses that take positions on issues like voting rights “stupid.”

If finding growing markets in which to sell soda and tickets were the only interest of these companies, taking a stand for voting rights would be smart, not dumb. But much more is at stake for them.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian noted that he discussed the voting rights issues with Delta employees before issuing his statement. Employees are vital stakeholders.

Before COVID-19, I was a very frequent flyer, but I confess, I’d never heard of Bastian. The people who represent the Delta brand to me are the ground and flight crews I interacted with at the airport and on the plane. Happy Delta employees create a positive brand image, disgruntled workers a negative one.

Bastian was smart to consider his employees’ views in deciding to make the public statement that angered Leader McConnell.

But it’s not just employees. Poll after poll finds large majorities of Americans, particularly those born post-baby-boom, want and expect corporate CEOs to speak out on critical issues of the day, and they reward companies for such actions. (Though, if you think political polls are riddled with poorly constructed questions and dubious methods, wade through surveys on these topics!)

An experiment by business school professors from Harvard and Duke found that making people aware of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s criticism of Indiana’s anti-gay law meaningfully increased consumers’ intent to purchase Apple products.

What a happy coincidence — Cook giving voice to his values, saying what he really thought about gay rights, helped sell Apple products.

Oddly, Leader McConnell seems to have missed this intervention by Cook, as well as Dick’s Sporting Goods’ decision to stop selling guns at most stores, and even Delta’s earlier move, severing its relationship with the NRA after the 2018 Parkland, Fla., shooting.

In response to Bastian’s decision then, Georgia’s Republican legislature did what McConnell is threatening and took a lucrative tax break away from the airline.

Bastian’s response: Delta’s “values are not for sale.” Eventually the GOP restored the tax break.

None of those corporate interventions captured McConnell’s attention because neither gay rights, nor “religious freedom,” neither the death of school children, nor the Second Amendment, are his prime concerns.

McConnell’s top priority is getting the most votes for Republicans, and the fewest for Democrats, at any cost.

That’s not a value system too many Americans will embrace.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years, as president of the American Association of Political Consultants, and is president of Democratic Majority for Israel.

Tags big business corporations Donald Trump Joe Biden Mitch McConnell voter supression voting restrictions

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