Panicked GOP Establishment Turns Against Wall Street to Stop Populist Outrage

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AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Bloomberg’s Joshua Green writes that Republican consultants are reacting to the rise of populists like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders with harsh criticism of big banks like Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers.

From Bloomberg Politics:

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 that he’d failed to report to the Federal Election Commission loans from Goldman Sachs and Citibank of up to $1 million. “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.

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.’”

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.

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.”

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