WASHINGTON • The country’s most powerful business lobbying groups already knew they had a problem with the GOP when Tea Party lawmakers nearly forced the country into a massive default of its debt last year.
But with Eric Cantor’s shocking defeat Tuesday night, things for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable just got a whole lot worse.
For one, they lost a major defender of their favored policies — from the beneficial tax treatment of private equity income to immigration reforms favored by the country’s biggest tech companies. But even worse for their prospects, Cantor lost to a challenger who specifically attacked him for his close ties to business — going so far as to single out the BRT and the Chamber.
“The central theme of Brat’s campaign is that Cantor is beholden to business — specifically the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable,” wrote Politico in April.
“If you’re in big business, Eric’s been very good to you, and he gets a lot of donations because of that, right?” Brat said at a local meeting of Republicans in Virginia, according to Politico. “Very powerful. Very good at fundraising because he favors big business. But when you’re favoring artificially big business, someone’s paying the tab for that. Someone’s paying the price for that, and guess who that is? You.”
It’s true that Cantor enjoyed a strong relationship with business, especially with Wall Street. The industry that gave him the most campaign contributions was the securities and investment sector. Individuals from the private equity firm Blackstone were his biggest financial supporters. Cantor went to bat for the industry repeatedly over politically unpopular issues, including the taxation of income at private equity firms at the lower capital gains rate.
That’s no surprise: for decades, the GOP and big business have worked closely together to build a political alliance that until recently appeared airtight. But now with Tea Party activist groups charging the traditional wing of the GOP with “crony capitalism” — and Cantor’s loss — the balance of power is creeping away from the pro-business faction of the Republican Party.
The business lobbying groups have made no secret of their intense dislike of the Tea Party wing, as The Post’s Tom Hamburger and I reported last year. Dirk Van Dongen, the longtime chief lobbyist for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, called Tea Party lawmakers and their activist supporters “the Taliban minority.”
But Brat’s win signals that it’s not just the lawmakers supported by the BRT and the Chamber that are under threat. The business lobby groups themselves have increasingly become political targets — and they could start hearing their names mentioned unflatteringly in many more stump speeches to come.
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