Since the 1880s, the Republican party has been joined at the hip with business interests in the public mind. When times are good, that is a boon for the GOP, but when times are bad, it is a serious political handicap, as it was in 1992, 2008, and 2012, and as it may be in 2016. Romney hoped to use his background in business to his advantage, but the exit polling indicates that it worked against him. This gave Obama enormous political cover to sidle up to his elite supporters, who enjoyed tremendous payoffs via the stimulus, Obamacare, and Dodd-Frank. The Clintons will probably do likewise. They will spend money donated by Goldman Sachs executives to run television ads decrying the influence of corporations like Goldman Sachs, all the while assuming that the GOP’s psychological connection with business will mask their blatant hypocrisy.
This is the place for the Sister Souljah moment. The party has to find a way to signal to voters that, contrary to their expectations, the GOP will not govern as though it is in the pocket of corporate interests. That does not mean Republicans should embrace the Democratic party’s regulatory regime or buy into the false idea that one’s attitude to business is revealed exclusively by how many government agencies one creates to boss it around. After all, the Democrats do not simply regulate business, they subsidize it as well. Look at Obamacare’s individual mandate, a boon to insurers, or Dodd-Frank’s maintenance of “too big to fail,” a boon to big banks. Washington Democrats may spend half their time regulating business, but they spend the other half providing rents to businesses, at least those with high-powered lobbyists once employed by the Clinton administration.
The Republican party, unfortunately, is just as guilty of this sin as the Democratic party. What is called for, then, is an admission of the GOP’s past wrongs, a full-throated renunciation of the old practices, an unequivocal promise that a Republican administration will treat people equally, regardless of how much money they spend on lobbyists, and a reform agenda that seeks to embed these virtues in the law. All of this could be combined with an attack on the faux-populism of the Clintons; their folksy rhetoric has stood them in good stead for a generation, during which they have amassed an impressive record of clientelism that will make it difficult for them to counter a GOP assault on this front.