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‘It’s ceding a lot of terrain to us’: Biden goes populist with little pushback

The right’s muted response to Biden’s orders underscores the remarkable ideological shift that’s occurring in Washington, D.C. A Republican Party once closely allied with corporate America finds itself increasingly less so in the Donald Trump era. Indeed, in the aftermath of Biden’s orders, even officials in Trump’s orbit were saying the politics were smart.

“Both [Biden and Trump] have elements in their constituencies that want this, and, by the way, they’re on solid ground with the rest of America,” said a Trump adviser. “America has a love-hate relationship with these companies.”

But, so far, much of the GOP’s newfound economic populism has been delivered in words rather than action. And that’s given Democrats space to pursue an agenda that, even just five years ago, likely would have sparked massive blowback.

“People will understand who’s on their side and who’s not,” said Cedric Richmond, a senior White House adviser and director of the Office of Public Engagement. “There will be Democrats who are on the side of working families, and not Republicans. For them, I think it’s a terrible mistake.”

The executive order Biden issued earlier this month included 72 initiatives in all. Among the most consequential were his moves calling for greater scrutiny of tech acquisitions, bolstering competition for generic drug makers and importers from Canada, allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter, standardizing plans for health care shoppers trying to compare insurance options, and protecting certain meat-packing workers from what are seen as artificially low wages.

It was another prong in what economic observers view as an increasingly populist White House agenda. Earlier, Biden had stated his commitment to waiving intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines and nominated Amazon critic and anti-monopoly advocate Lina Khan to chair the Federal Trade Commission.

Some of Biden’s actions came on issues that already had Republican support, including the effort to bring down the price of hearing aids, discouraging agricultural consolidation and limiting so-called noncompete agreements that harm U.S. workers, among others. Twenty-one Republicans backed Khan’s nomination.

The cross-partisan appeal around anti-monopoly policies traces back even further. During the 2016 election, Trump ran on promises to combat big mergers and take on massive corporations that he said posed a “huge antitrust problem.” Following Trump’s loss, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) have called for sweeping antitrust reform in Congress that at times echoes Democratic efforts. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, one of the most influential voices to the right, cheered the choice of Khan to lead the FTC.

“There’s an increased recognition that concentration across all corporate sectors is really stifling the economy and hurting people,” said David Segal, executive director of digital rights group Demand Progress and co-chair of the Freedom from Facebook and Google coalition. “In some cases it’s an actual recognition of that and in others there’s a recognition at least of the political salience of the issue.”

Instead of going after Biden for targeting big businesses, Republicans have focused on Covid-related policies and spending, immigration and fears of inflation. Meanwhile, party activists and much of the conservative media ecosystem are prioritizing cultural war issues, from conspiracies about Dr. Seuss works being prohibited to the teaching of critical race theory in schools.

Celinda Lake, one of Biden’s lead campaign pollsters,…

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