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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Corporate giants would be barred from acquisitions and century-old antitrust laws would get sharper teeth under a new proposal by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) shared exclusively with Axios.

The big picture: Hawley is among the Senate's most conservative members, but his attack on corporate power wouldn't sound out of place on Elizabeth Warren's or Bernie Sanders' agenda.

  • That's how deeply Republicans' anger at what they see as out-of-control "censorship" by Big Tech and overreaching activism by "woke corporations" has alienated some of the party from its traditional big-business base.

Details: Hawley's "Trust-Busting for the Twenty-First Century Act" would ...

  • Ban mergers and acquisitions by firms with a market cap over $100 billion
  • Lower the threshold for prosecution under existing federal antitrust laws, replacing the prevalent "consumer harm" standard with one that emphasizes "the protection of competition"
  • Require companies that lose federal antitrust lawsuits to "forfeit all their profits resulting from monopolistic conduct"
  • Give the Federal Trade Commission new power to designate and regulate "dominant digital firms" in different online markets

What they're saying: "This country and this government shouldn't be run by a few mega-corporations," Hawley told Axios. The Republican Party "has got to become the party of trust-busting once again. You know, that's a part of our history."

  • Hawley said "globalization" and "both parties getting comfortable with corporate consolidation" were responsible for a market failure that justifies strong intervention.
  • "We tried it the way that the big corporatists wanted," he said, "and it hasn't been a success for the American consumer, for the American producer, or for the American economy."

Of note: Hawley's plan is more than a salvo against Silicon Valley. Its rules on mergers, for instance, would cover dozens of U.S. giants in virtually every economic sector, from banking and health to retail and media.

Between the lines: Aren't people going to be confused by this tough-on-business proposal from a member of the party of business? Hawley offers two responses:

  • "Trust-busting" was a Republican concept originally, under Progressive-Era GOP president Teddy Roosevelt.
  • Strong antitrust laws are ultimately about the sanctity of competition, and Republicans ought to embrace that.

What to watch: Hawley's ideas might win some support from other populist Republicans, but the broader party would need a sea-change in thinking to embrace it. Democrats, meanwhile, are likely to prefer their own bills.

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Go deeper

Stephen Breyer formally announces retirement from Supreme Court

Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Justice Stephen Breyer on Thursday sent a letter to President Biden formally announcing his retirement from the Supreme Court.

What he's saying: "I enormously appreciate the privilege of serving as part of the federal judicial system ... I have found the work challenging and meaningful," Breyer said.

COVID created an epic U.S. trade gap

Chart: Axios Visuals. Data: Census Bureau/Bureau of Economic Analysis

The details of the blockbuster fourth quarter GDP report released Thursday morning tell a vivid story of how the underpinnings of the world economy have been reshaped by the pandemic.

One example: In the arithmetic around U.S. economic output, trade acted as a more severe drag last year than it has in a generation.

Updated 1 hour ago - Technology

Pandemic gave cover to online dating scams

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Crooked Casanovas used online dating scams to steal an estimated $500 million from lonely victims last year, according to a new analysis of government fraud data by Atlas VPN, an internet security provider.

Why it matters: The isolation of the lingering pandemic provided cover to fraudulent suitors who had an excuse for not meeting up in person even as they fleeced their would-be lovers out of gift cards, money — even cryptocurrency.