GOP goes to war with Major League Baseball as Georgia's voter suppression law drains state revenues

GOP goes to war with Major League Baseball as Georgia's voter suppression law drains state revenues
Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Stacey Abrams is a visionary advocate but she's also just a damn good politician. As rumors swirled that Major League Baseball might pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Georgia to protest the state's newly enacted voter suppression law, Abrams did what anyone eyeing a potential 2022 gubernatorial bid might do, she argued the case of her constituents.

In a USA Today op-ed published Wednesday, Abrams urged corporate America to speak out against the voter suppression laws sweeping the nation, but cautioned against boycotting the state.

"Boycotts work," Abrams acknowledged. But in order for them to work, she added, "the pain of deprivation must be shared to be sustainable. Otherwise, those least resilient bear the brunt of these actions; and in the aftermath, they struggle to access the victory." Abrams ultimately argued that instead of boycotting the state, corporate America should find other ways of supporting voting rights activists and holding Republican lawmakers accountable.

"Leaving us behind won't save us," she wrote, "So I ask you to bring your business to Georgia and, if you're already here, stay and fight."

The op-ed put Abrams in a commanding political position no matter what happened. If corporations held their fire, she could legitimately argue she had contributed to saving the state from economic pain. If they boycotted, she could both lament the revenue loss and praise the intent, which is exactly what she did when news broke Friday that the MLB had would indeed yank the All-Star Game and draft from the state.

"Disappointed @MLB will move the All-Star Game, but proud of their stance on voting rights," Abrams wrote on Twitter Friday. "GA GOP traded economic opportunity for suppression. On behalf of PoC targeted by #SB202 to lose votes + now wages, I urge events & productions to come & speak out or stay & fight."

The statement put Abrams on the right side of every piece of the argument: pulling for the bread and butter economics of Georgia voters, while still taking a righteous stand for voting rights. It also left Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who signed the voter suppression bill behind closed doors, on the hook for what could amount to significant revenue losses across the state.

Kemp, with nowhere else to turn, embraced the GOP's option of last resort: culture war politics. Republicans now longer run on policies, just an airing of grievances.

"Georgians—and all Americans—should fully understand what the MLB's knee-jerk decision means," Kemp said in a statement. "Cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included. If the left doesn't agree with you, facts & the truth do not matter."

If you're a Republican, you know you're losing when your best option is to attack the all-American sport of baseball. Next up: Kemp will expose hot dogs and apple pie as traitorous staples of the Left.

At a Saturday press conference, Kemp doubled down on his culture war, saying leftists would "stop at nothing to silence all of us." Asked about the possibility of a "snowball effect" of boycotts, Kemp responded, "We are not wavering," adding, "You can bow down to this cancel culture but I will give you a warning: If you do, it's never enough."

Georgia Republicans think this a boon to the party. Kemp—who has taken an onslaught of heat from Trump supporters for not overturning the state's legitimate 2020 results—can finally be their hero against cancel culture, as Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Greg Bluestein noted.

We'll see if that's how things really play out in the long run. Sure enough, Donald Trump chimed in on Saturday morning, encouraging his supporters to "boycott baseball" over the MLB's stand against racism. But whatever Trump supporters make of it, so-called "cancel culture" may not play as well in the Georgia suburbs, where the revenue losses could be more top of mind. Republican lawmakers are trying to pin the MLB's cancellation on Abrams, as though she was the one who passed an abhorrent law that has now become a national symbol of renewed Jim Crow fervor across the country.

More than likely, the MLB All-Star Game won't be the last of the cancellations and subsequent financial loss. As Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms noted Friday night, "Unfortunately, the removal of the @MLB All Star game from GA is likely the 1st of many dominoes to fall, until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed."

Just how costly could it be? Well, for comparison's sake, the hateful "bathroom bill" targeting transgender Americans passed by North Carolina Republicans in 2016 ultimately cost the state a whopping $3.76 billion in lost business revenues, according to an AP analysis conducted in 2017; even that was still considered to be an undercount of the economic fallout. That's an enormous hit.

Additionally, the GOP governor who signed that bill into law, Pat McCrory, lost his reelection bid in November 2016, in what was otherwise a very good year for Republicans nationally. Absent the anti-trans bathroom bill, McCrory almost surely would have been reelected by a comfortable margin, given that Trump won the Tar Heel State by nearly 4 points.

There's a lot more innings left to play in this entire episode. But Trump voters are still a total wild card in terms of turnout in any election where Trump doesn't actually appear on the ballot. Georgia Republicans are now betting heavily on some combination of Trumpers and voter suppression to deliver statewide wins for the party in 2022, and reclaim a U.S. Senate seat now held by Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.

It's quite a bet. This right here is the fight of Stacey Abrams' life, and Georgia Democrats now have the proven organizing infrastructure to adapt to almost any voting environments Republicans throw at them. Meanwhile, Georgia Republicans are trying to motivate a group of Trump voters whose lack of enthusiasm cost them those two U.S. Senate seats to begin with.

If Abrams makes a gubernatorial bid next year alongside Warnock's reelection effort, it's hard to imagine a more energizing scenario for the Democratic base in the face of Republicans' epic voter suppression efforts. As for Republicans, at this point, it's not even clear who their base is. They might manage to invigorate Trump voters by stoking their anti-baseball culture war, but what about the far more dependable suburban voters who form the other side of their coalition?

Are those voters going to think losing tens of millions in revenues—or even hundreds of millions—is worth a GOP culture war that repositions the Peach State as a nostalgic throwback to the Confederacy, akin to Alabama and South Carolina? Georgia has spent decades trying to escape that historical anchor on the way to a more prosperous and progressive future—and it has largely succeeded, as the rapid growth of the state's suburbs have shown.

Now Republicans will be trying to sell those same suburban voters on the notion that the only forward is going backward in time. Trumpers in rural areas might happily take that bait, but it remains to be seen if GOP voters in the suburbs are willing to swallow that backward thinking hook, line, and sinker.

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