Noah Phillips and the Political Collapse of Corporate Republicans

Libertarians in retreat.

Welcome to BIG, a newsletter on the politics of monopoly power. If you’d like to sign up to receive issues over email, you can do so here.

Last week, the House Antitrust Subcommittee had a hearing on suggested changes to the antitrust laws, part of a series of hearings that will likely result in a significant overhaul in how the state and corporate power relate to one another. The hearing illustrated the problems that the GOP coalition is having meshing its increasingly anti-monopolist conservative base with its big tech supportive corporate wing. This tension became evident watching Republican FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips get grilled, not so much by Democrats, but by Republicans.

An increasingly significant concern for the right is big tech firms using their power to censor conservatives, as they did when they removed Donald Trump from most major platforms after the Capitol Hill riot. Conservative Republican leader Jim Jordan, who is the highest ranking member on the full Judiciary Committee, is extremely deferential to corporate power, but he is first and foremost a conservative movement leader. So on the one hand, he generally wants to help promote his vision of a free market, but on the other, he cannot abide dominant firms censoring his political faction. In this hearing, he was seeking some sort of reconciliation of these two goals, and asked his Republican ally, Noah Phillips, for help.

Phillips is a corporate Republican, and in this case, he simply had nothing to offer. In a back and forth, he told Jordan that censorship was not a monopoly concern. He also gave no ground on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives a liability shield to tech platforms, and is often offered by Republicans as a way to address censorship concerns without making antitrust laws more powerful.

Jordan asked, “If we're not going to use antitrust to deal with censorship and you are reluctant to talk about Section 230, what's the answer?”

Phillips responded, "I'm afraid I don't have a good answer."

Phillips couldn’t respond with anything, because the only way he could have discussed addressing big tech censorship was by acknowledging that the state should be structuring markets deliberately on behalf of some sort of common good. And that concession would crush his ability to fight against state power and on behalf of dominant firms. Jordan needed something Phillips couldn’t offer.

Movements don’t end when their ideas prove to be wrong, they end when solving one political problem causes another, bigger one for their coalition. And that’s why libertarianism is falling apart.

Related posts:

The Federalist Society, Monopoly and a Conservative Intellectual Collapse

The New Populist Right Imagines a Post-Pandemic America

Will Trump's Supreme Court Destroy Trump's Google Case?

The Google Suit: We’re All Anti-Monopolists Now

Trump's Surprising Embrace of Industrial Policy to Fight China

The Republican Debate Over Big Finance Heats Up

What does Trump's Antitrust chief want?