How rules fuel populist anger in rural America

On the campaign trail, Mr. Harden has gotten an earful from voters about maddening and arbitrary restrictions: Why are wineries in Maryland limited to serving only 13 kinds of food? Why does a woman who sells her grandmother’s cobbler have to cough up tens of thousands of dollars to build a commercial kitchen? Why does a federal inspector have to be on hand to watch wild catfish get gutted — but not other kinds of seafood? The short answer is that restaurant associations tend to wield more political clout than wineries, and catfish farmers in Mississippi are more powerful than seafood harvesters in Maryland. Big businesses can afford to hire lawyers to help them cut through red tape and lobbyists to bend government rules to their will. Small businesses, especially in rural places, get slammed.

“The claim of overregulation is especially animating on the political right,” Joshua Sewell of Taxpayers for Common Sense told me. He said misleading rumors that the Environmental Protection Agency planned to regulate farm dust or that President Biden’s Build Back Better plan would have taxed belching cows played right into the stereotype of Democrats as city folk who were infuriatingly eager to regulate almost anything in rural America.

In 2006, Democrats and Republicans had similar views on government regulation of business: About 40 percent of Republicans said there was too much, compared to about 36 percent of Democrats. But the percentage of Republicans who felt that way climbed steadily under President Barack Obama, who enacted more economically significant rules than his predecessors. By the end of his first term, 84 percent of Republicans thought that government meddled too much in business, while only 22 percent of Democrats agreed, according to Gallup. Democrats were more likely to say that the government doesn’t regulate businesses enough.