by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The folks at Bloomberg Businessweek seem shocked that Republicans might take shots at big banks.
When it comes to attacking Wall Street, no one can match Bernie Sanders’s conviction. But the Vermont senator’s eagerness to jail, fine, and tax bankers has overshadowed another group of politicians who have unexpectedly turned into vocal critics of the biggest banks: Republicans.
At events leading up to the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump railed against what he characterized as corporate “bloodsuckers” who control the government through their campaign contributions—echoing Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi’s description of Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.” Trump has gone after Goldman, too, accusing the bank of buying influence over Republican rival Ted Cruz. …
… This concern extends well beyond the presidential race. In Illinois, Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican, has criticized his likely Democratic opponent, Representative Tammy Duckworth, for owning Goldman Sachs stock. The most striking example of a Republican targeting Wall Street is the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Richard Shelby of Alabama. Shelby, who’s being challenged by a Tea Party candidate, Jonathan McConnell, in the state’s March 1 primary, has already spent almost $3 million on TV ads—more than anyone else in Congress—many of them attacking Wall Street banks. “You would think that Shelby is running against Bernie Sanders,” says Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate elections for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Shelby won’t be giving potential critics any new material. He said on Jan. 29 that he’d halt his committee’s work until later in March: “I have a primary, you know.”
Political professionals have been struck by Shelby’s attack on banks not only because he chairs the Banking Committee and has received enormous largesse from financial companies—$2.7 million this Senate cycle, the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics says—but also because his TV ads have been extraordinarily aggressive, naming individual banks such as Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo. “Calling out banks by name and logo is extremely rare for Republicans,” says Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president for political advertising at Kantar Media, which tracks political ads. “It’s rare, period—even back in 2012, when we were just emerging from the recession, we saw a lot of ads slamming ‘Wall Street banks’ or ‘big banks.’ But few ads specified banks by name, and those tended to be Democratic ads. We’ve seen more Republican ads slamming individual banks by name in the past few weeks than we probably saw in all of 2012.”
While writer Joshua Green might be surprised if he looked more closely into the political party that has benefited most from ties to Wall Street and banking interests over the years, that’s a story for another day.
What’s most remarkable about this report is the fact that Green doesn’t seem to understand that a major strand of conservatism — actually free-market classical liberalism — naturally opposes any businesses that use government for their own benefit, including large-scale banks.