Feb 7, 2022 - Podcasts

The influencers dominating the GOP

Power within the Republican Party has changed with lightning speed over the past several years. Axios' Jonathan Swan spoke with more than a dozen top GOP consultants — from the Trumpians to the most institutional — about what this shift means for the party.

  • Plus, a record low in housing supply keeps driving prices up.
  • And, Olympics corporate sponsors stay silent on human rights issues.

Guests: Axios' Jonathan Swan, Hope King and Matt Phillips.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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MARGARET TALEV: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday February 7th. I’m Margaret Talev in for Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: Olympics corporate sponsors stay silent on human rights issues. Plus, a record low in housing supplies keeps driving prices up and up.

But first, today’s one big thing: the Influencers dominating the GOP.

Power within the Republican party is changing. Quickly. Axios’ Jonathan Swan spoke with more than a dozen top Republican consultants from the Trumpians to the most institutional. And joins us to talk about what they told him. Hi Jonathan.

JONATHAN SWAN: Hey Margaret.

MARGARET: Jonathan, your research starts back in 2014. Who were the power brokers before Donald Trump. And who are they now?

JONATHAN: Well, at a high level, you've had the replacement of a corporate-friendly tax-cutting, deregulatory GOP with a increasingly hardline, populist, nationalist, Republican party that's focused on the culture wars. And within that big kind of picture, you've had these titans of the old GOP either completely collapsed or recede into irrelevancy. We're talking about the NRA. We're talking about the Koch network, which was the big boogie man on the left. Republican operatives don't give a crap about them anymore. Replacing all of that is this new God. Obviously at the top level of the party is Trump, and everyone associated with him, and then there's aggressive pro-Trump, populist, nationalist, media. Obviously at the top of the tree is Tucker Carlson. Many operatives said to me, they hope he never runs for office against one of their candidates, because he would be extremely formidable in a Republican primary, but he is the person they fear most. Tucker is much more populist, much more nationalist, um, harder line on immigration, more isolationist in his foreign policy. And very, very suspicious if not hostile to some of the biggest companies in this country.

MARGARET: I think that brings us to a moment last week in which a lot of Republicans were asking: Can Donald Trump take this too far? We saw, uh, the Republican National Committee actually goes so far as to censure two GOP members of Congress. Of course, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, for serving on that January 6th select committee. And then we saw some Republican politicians disagree with that. Condemn that. Say: this is the Republican National Committee should be ashamed of itself. How do you square those two factions?

JONATHAN: Well, I don't square them. The way I would explain it is, you have this extraordinary, possibly unprecedented situation where you have a defeated one term president out of office controlling the national party. And the voice is speaking up against this while they get disproportionate media attention, because of course, it's an interesting story when you have, you know, senior, seasoned figures like Mitt Romney, speaking out. They do not represent where the party is today.

MARGARET: There's one other interesting person we all heard from last week. That's former Vice President, Mike Pence. Take a listen.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election.

MARGARET: What's Mike Pence trying to do here?

JONATHAN: Well, he's, stating the truth. Um, but beyond that, look, Trump has been poking Pence, uh, in statements for a year now, but he, he used different language, uh, gosh, probably a week ago now, uh, when he put out a statement saying that Mike Pence, uh, could have quote “overturned the election.” Trump said the quiet part out loud. So that gave Pence, uh, both a challenge because he named him and attacked him, but also an opportunity now that Trump had finally said it for Pence make this statement. And I suspect that will be, he will try anyway, he probably won't be able to, but he'll try to make that one of his last words on this. He's not, I don't get the sense from my conversations with, um, sources, that Pence wants to keep litigating this, um, over the next couple years.

MARGARET: Axios’ national politics correspondent, Jonathan Swan. Thanks for joining us.

JONATHAN: Thank you.

MARGARET: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with the Catch-22 for corporations sponsoring the Winter Olympics

[ad break]

MARGARET: Welcome back to Axios today. I'm Margaret Talev in for Niala Boodhoo. We’re a few days into the Winter Olympics in Beijing, but as the games continue, top Olympic sponsors are tip-toeing around the issue of human rights in China. And it seems to be a lose-lose situation, whether they speak out or stay silent. Here to explain is Hope King, business reporter at Axios. Which companies are we talking about?

HOPE KING: These are some of the biggest companies in the world, Airbnb, Alibaba, Allianz, Hos, Bridgestone, Coke, Intel, Omega, Panasonic, P & G, Samsung, Toyota and Visa.

MARGARET: I hear that activists are expressing their frustrations, but what do they actually want these 13 companies to do?

HOPE: So in their minds, the activists are saying, “Hey, on your corporate websites you're talking a lot about diversity, equity and inclusion. You're talking about human rights. And yet on this issue, when you're sponsoring these games in a country that is completely at odds with what you're even saying that you stand for, you should at least point that out.” And none of the sponsors have done that.

MARGARET: What are the sponsors afraid of? They speak out, they say, “we're proud to sponsor the games, but we abhor xyz.” And what are they afraid happens?

HOPE: What they're afraid of happening is that the Chinese government and really frankly, Chinese consumers will be upset and they will boycott. Profits take a huge hit. Investors will sell off stock. That's the risk of speaking out and the risk of staying silent, which they are doing now is all of the criticism that they are staying silent. So they’re, as you said, in a lose lose situation.

MARGARET: I do wonder if any kind of support for these games is a sign of complicity. And if any kind of support for China's profitability or elevation on the world stage, uh, is complicity, where does it stop? What's the difference between what companies do and whether Americans are watching the sports, is it okay to watch the sport to support the Olympians? Without saying that you support human rights abuses by a world government?

HOPE: It's not just with the Olympics. I think it's a lot with a lot of things, you know? Can you support Tesla or Elon Musk without facing some criticism that, hey, they just opened a factory in Xingjiang, right.

MARGARET: Or how do you go to a big box store and buy any product?

HOPE: Exactly. And so a lot of the consultants against the IOC or sponsors, you know, they, they point to that logic and they say it is unfair to bundle it all together.

MARGARET: Hope King is a business reporter at Axios. Thanks Hope.

MARGARET: The supply of houses in the U.S. has plunged to record lows in recent months. I guess that's great for anyone looking to sell their house, but nobody else. Axios’ markets correspondent, Matt Phillips, is here to talk about the boom. So what are we talking about? Is this happening across the board?

MATT PHILLIPS: Yes. From what I gather talking to economists in the field, this is sort of a nationwide story. I mean, it stands in a little bit of opposition to the, sort of, pre-2008 boom that led to bust. It's not just in the sand states like Arizona, Nevada, Florida. You know, this is pretty much across the board in the upper Midwest, upstate New York. Record price gains, which is pretty remarkable.

MARGARET: What's actually fueling this? Is it just as basic as supply and demand Supply is down, prices are up?

MATT: Yeah, kind of it is. Roughly the same amount of housing is coming to the market each month, but it's this huge black hole of demand has opened up, that is just meaning the houses are not staying on the market. If you kind of think of it like a bathtub where like the faucet would be adding supply and the drain is taking supply out, it’s as if the drain has gotten suddenly a lot bigger and so the pool is just not filling up with supply.

MARGARET: Interest rates were really low for a long time. Then they were like ridiculously low. Now they're coming back up again and everyone's like they're high, but they're really low compared to what they were. What is the role of The Fed in this shortage?

MATT: When The Fed sort of cut interest rates super low during the early days of the pandemic. And suddenly a large swath of the country was basically stuck in their house, and everyone needed an extra room for their office. It triggered a pretty sensible shift in demand for housing that sort of, supercharged it, but it was a combination of both the pandemic and low interest rates. Which was a volatile mix for the housing market.

MARGARET: Matt Phillips is Axios’ markets correspondent and co-writes the Axios Markets newsletter. Thanks Matt.

MATT: Thanks, Margaret.

MARGARET: That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Margaret Talev - thanks for listening, we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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