That’s when a new, postwar generation of Republicans transformed the party into the defender of Northern business interests. This was a fairly natural transition for the GOP. The Republicans had formed from the remains of the Whig party, which favored government efforts to develop the economy (e.g., protective tariffs). But the GOP of the 1880s and beyond took this to another level.
As I argue in my new book, “A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption,” Republican Party leaders came to view the interests of the country and the interests of its largest businesses as one and the same. For advocating this position so effectively (often winning elections despite public opposition to their policies), party leaders were showered with campaign cash, and many acquired vast personal fortunes.
Hardly anybody remembers Gilded Age Republican leaders like Nelson Aldrich, James Blaine, and Matthew Quay, but the choices they made at the end of the nineteenth century remain hugely consequential to today’s GOP. Their view that business interest and the national interest are one and the same is an ideal that many in the party, particularly its upper quarters, still hold dear…
It is not hard to see why small government conservatives would align themselves with pro-business Republicans. There is a lot of overlap in the worldviews. Conservatives believe in the free market as society’s real progressive force, and have always opposed the Democratic Party’s expansive regulatory ambitions. Meanwhile, businesses do not want regulation, at least of themselves. Similarly, conservatives want to reduce the overall tax burden on society, and businesses want their taxes cut, too.