Politics

Washington Monthly | A Moderate Republican Donor Revolt Will Be Part of the Realignment

As the Republican Party sinks deeper into its evangelical extremism, white supremacy and anti-majoritarian instincts, a gradual realignment will take place in the electorate that will either see a wrenching transformation of the GOP or a gradual decline into permanent minority status. (Assuming, of course, that an authoritarian destruction of democracy does not intervene.)

Part of that realignment will involve a Democratic Party that is far more responsive to young people, women, people of color, and the need for aggressive transformations of the economic deal between the 99% and the richest top 1%.

And while Democrats should in no way, shape or form chase after fiscal “conservatives” who would stand in the way of the changes to economic policy that must take place to deal with crises in housing, education, climate, employment, and the frayed structural underpinnings of late-stage capitalism itself, there will also be a number of former Republican wealthy elites who understand that preserving democracy is more important than making themselves ever wealthier.

That is already happening in the Trump era, exemplified by two recent stories. First in Ohio:

Ohio’s wealthiest Republican donor, Leslie H. Wexner, has left the party, saying he is fed up with its antics, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

“I’m an independent,” Wexner said at an event for Ohio business leaders Thursday night, noting that he had been a Republican since his college days. “I won’t support this nonsense in the Republican Party.”

Wexner is the founder and CEO of L Brands, a company whose holdings include Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. He’s been a long time and major donor to Republican politicians and committees. Wexner gave $250,000 in 2012 to a super-PAC backing Mitt Romney’s campaign; in 2016, he and his wife Abigail donated more than $2 million to candidates, with Leslie contributing $500,000 in support of Jeb Bush’s presidential bid.

Since the election, the billionaire has been critical of President Trump, noting in a speech to his employees last year that he felt “dirty” and “ashamed” by the president’s response to a white nationalist and far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that turned violent. At the time, Wexner, who is Jewish, said he was unable to sleep because of the incident, telling himself that “I have to do something because the leader of our country is behaving poorly.”

And even more instructive is the case of Seth Klarman, a billionaire investor who flipped from being one of the Republican Party’s biggest donors to one of the biggest funders of Democrats in 2018:

Not two years ago, Mr. Klarman, a registered independent, was the biggest donor to the Republican Party in New England. According to The Boston Globe, during the Obama administration, Mr. Klarman gave more than $7 million to the party. If you look at his Federal Election Commission filings for 2016, you will find $100,000 to the Hillary Action Fund, but mostly a long list of donations to names like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and the Republican National Committee.

No longer. Among the many things Donald Trump has upended, one has been Mr. Klarman’s political giving. The denunciation of the president and his party in papers like this one has done nothing to change their behavior. He hopes money will.

The F.E.C. filings that will come out on Sept. 20 will show that Mr. Klarman is now giving almost exclusively Democrats — and donating far more money than he ever has.

For Mr. Klarman, the logic is plain: “We need to turn the House and Senate as a check on Donald Trump and his runaway presidency.”

One shouldn’t make too much of this. Most rich Republican donors will keep on doing business as usual, and Democrats would be foolish in the extreme to attempt to triangulate their politics to please donors like Mssrs. Klarman and Wexler at the expense of the needs of the country and the mobilization of their base. That approach was tried in the 1990s, and while it can might be able to win an election or two in the short term, the long-term results are utterly disastrous both electorally and economically.

Even so, a small-scale donor revolt among moderate conservatives with a conscience will be part of the picture that ultimately causes the Republican Party to transform or collapse.


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