Today’s populist Republicans have jettisoned many classical conservative values, but their departure from a decades-long alliance with America’s corporations is one of the most notable rebellions. “Old-fashioned corporate Republicanism won’t do in a world where the left has hijacked big business,” Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, recently wrote. The backlash came after Disney condemned Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Google halted midterm donations from candidates who had refused to certify Joe Biden’s 2020 win and Delta, Coca-Cola and Microsoft denounced new voting laws in Republican states. Some argue that these public displays of liberal values go beyond economic self-interest. When researchers at the University of Chicago analysed every S&P 500 company tweet since 2011, they found that over time statements from companies and Democratic politicians came to sound more and more alike (see chart).
With big business on Republican hit-lists, entrepreneurs saw an opening. The parallel economy has two major draws. For consumers, it offers the opportunity to buy from firms that reflect their values. Surveys show that Americans want brands to get political and would sometimes even pay a premium for products if they did. For firms, politically aligned suppliers serve as an insurance policy. Businesses can be burnt when companies they rely on back out over politics. Parler, a far-right social network, was paralysed when Amazon pulled its web-hosting services and Apple and Google dropped it from their app stores after January 6th 2021. The withdrawal came just as Twitter froze Donald Trump’s account and his army of apostles were hungry for a fresh platform. Politically aligned backend firms would ensure business opportunities are not missed.
Companies are quickly learning that building viable alternatives to common products—and pulling patrons from big-shot firms—is hard. Writing and maintaining code to run Google and YouTube is so costly that no small startup could hope to compete. For services like Facebook and Tinder, the value is vastly improved with more participants. For these reasons many of the conservative tech firms are fizzling out. Tusk and Rumble have little-to-no name recognition outside far-right circles. Downloads of Truth Social, Donald Trump’s social-media site, are dwindling; its stock price has plummeted since last year. The Right Stuff captured over 50,000 hopeful singles in the two months after its debut, but has barely attracted more since (women are especially lacking). Its seed money from Peter Thiel, a libertarian billionaire, runs out this summer.
Others hope to entice customers by not only pledging devotion to conservative values, but by actually getting their hands dirty. Last spring Patriot Mobile, the wireless network, found and funded 11 candidates to run for school boards in the Fort Worth suburbs. Their $600,000 propelled each to victory, flipping four boards, one of which has since pulled “The Diary of Anne Frank” and LGBTQ-themed novels off library shelves. But patrons who came for phone services are frustrated by the inattention to them, saying in reviews that the firm’s poor customer service is “NOT what Jesus would do!” and claiming the management is so bad “they run it like Biden”.