When it comes to Wall Street, Repub­li­can can­di­dates sound like Bernie

▶ The Se­nate bank­ing chair is the lat­est to slam banks ▶ “You would think that Shelby is run­ning against Bernie San­ders”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Contents -

When it comes to at­tack­ing Wall Street, no one can match Bernie San­ders’s con­vic­tion. But the Ver­mont sen­a­tor’s ea­ger­ness to jail, fine, and tax bankers has over­shad­owed an­other group of politi­cians who have un­ex­pect­edly turned into vo­cal crit­ics of the big­gest banks: Repub­li­cans.

At events lead­ing up to the Feb. 9 New Hamp­shire pri­mary, Don­ald Trump railed against what he char­ac­ter­ized as cor­po­rate “blood­suck­ers” who con­trol the govern­ment through their cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions—echo­ing Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi’s de­scrip­tion of Gold­man Sachs as “a great vampire

squid wrapped around the face of hu­man­ity.” Trump has gone af­ter Gold­man, too, ac­cus­ing the bank of buy­ing in­flu­ence over Repub­li­can ri­val Ted Cruz. In Jan­uary the Texas sen­a­tor ad­mit­ted he’d failed to re­port a $1 mil­lion loan from Gold­man Sachs and an­other loan from Citibank. “Gold­man owns him,” Trump tweeted on Jan. 16. “He will do any­thing they de­mand.” A Jan. 13 Bloomberg Pol­i­tics/ Des Moines Reg­is­ter Iowa Poll found that this was Trump’s sin­gle most ef­fec­tive at­tack against Cruz.

Trump is hardly the only Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date us­ing Wall Street as a cudgel. In tele­vi­sion ads, New Jersey Gov­er­nor Chris Christie’s su­per PAC lam­basted Ohio Gov­er­nor John Ka­sich, who de­toured into fi­nance af­ter leav­ing Congress in 2001. “As a banker at Lehman Brothers, a Wall Street bank that failed,” a nar­ra­tor darkly in­tones, “Ka­sich made mil­lions while tax­pay­ers were forced to bail out Wall Street.” Marco Ru­bio’s su­per PAC has run ads go­ing af­ter Jeb Bush, an­other Lehman vet­eran, for sup­port­ing “Wall Street bailouts.”

Why are Repub­li­cans turn­ing on the fi­nan­cial gi­ants that have been their big­gest bene­fac­tors? “Trump’s surge has been a big wake-up call, and so has Bernie San­ders’s,” says Kris­ten Soltis An­der­son, co-founder of Ech­e­lon In­sights, a Repub­li­can polling firm. “But Mitt Rom­ney’s loss is still re­ver­ber­at­ing with Repub­li­cans, too. So many of them think, ‘That’s an elec­tion we should have won—and we lost be­cause we were never able to dis­tance our­selves from be­ing painted as the guys who drove the econ­omy into the ground.’ ”

This con­cern ex­tends well be­yond the pres­i­den­tial race. In Illinois, Sen­a­tor Mark Kirk, a Repub­li­can, has

crit­i­cized his likely Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tammy Duck­worth, for own­ing Gold­man Sachs stock. The most strik­ing ex­am­ple of a Repub­li­can tar­get­ing Wall Street is the chair­man of the Se­nate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee, Richard Shelby of Alabama. Shelby, who’s be­ing chal­lenged by a Tea Party can­di­date, Jonathan Mccon­nell, in the state’s March 1 pri­mary, has al­ready spent al­most $3 mil­lion on TV ads—more than any­one else in Congress—many of them at­tack­ing Wall Street banks. “You would think that Shelby is run­ning against Bernie San­ders,” says Jen­nifer Duffy, who tracks Se­nate elec­tions for the non­par­ti­san Cook Political Re­port. Shelby won’t be giv­ing po­ten­tial crit­ics any new ma­te­rial. He said on Jan. 29 that he’d halt his com­mit­tee’s work un­til later in March: “I have a pri­mary, you know.”

Political pro­fes­sion­als have been struck by Shelby’s at­tack on banks not only be­cause he chairs the Bank­ing Com­mit­tee and has re­ceived enor­mous largesse from fi­nan­cial com­pa­nies—$2.7 mil­lion this Se­nate cy­cle, the non­profit Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics says—but also be­cause his TV ads have been ex­traor­di­nar­ily ag­gres­sive, nam­ing in­di­vid­ual banks such as Bank of Amer­ica, Mor­gan Stan­ley, and Wells Fargo. “Call­ing out banks by name and logo is ex­tremely rare for Repub­li­cans,” says El­iz­a­beth Wilner, se­nior vice pres­i­dent for political ad­ver­tis­ing at Kan­tar Me­dia, which tracks political ads. “It’s rare, pe­riod—even back in 2012, when we were just emerg­ing from the re­ces­sion, we saw a lot of ads slam­ming ‘Wall Street banks’ or ‘big banks.’ But few ads spec­i­fied banks by name, and those tended to be Demo­cratic ads. We’ve seen more Repub­li­can ads slam­ming in­di­vid­ual banks by name in the past few weeks than we prob­a­bly

saw in all of 2012.”

De­spite the

“We’ve seen more Repub­li­can ads slam­ming in­di­vid­ual banks by name in the past few weeks than we prob­a­bly saw in all of 2012.” ——Kan­tar Me­dia’s El­iz­a­beth Wilner

bi­par­ti­san cho­rus of con­dem­na­tion, Democrats and Repub­li­cans have dif­fer­ent rea­sons for the at­tack. In­spired by San­ders, Democrats want to go on the of­fense and crack down on Wall Street. For Repub­li­cans such as Shelby, the pur­pose is pri­mar­ily de­fen­sive: to stave off a pop­ulist in­sur­gency from the Right. “Repub­li­cans never suc­cess­fully lit­i­gated their own guilt or in­no­cence in the fi­nan­cial cri­sis,” An­der­son says. “They’re wor­ried that vot­ers will do it on their own.” Joshua Green, with Chloe John­son The bot­tom line Repub­li­cans up and down the bal­lot are try­ing to har­ness vot­ers’ anger by crit­i­ciz­ing Wall Street donors.

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