Murdoch donates $1m to Republicans

He supported Obama in 2008, but now the media tycoon has made one of the Republicans’ biggest privat

Rupert Murdoch has donated $1m to the Republican Party in advance of the midterm elections in November.

The media magnate supported and praised Barack Obama from early on in the primary season in 2008, but has now turned to the Republicans, it seems. News Corporation commented that it supported the Republicans' "pro-business agenda" and felt that the party was aligned with "our priorities at this most critical time for our economy".

The Murdoch-owned titles the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, as well as Fox News, have long been editorially aligned with the Republicans, and now Murdoch himself is following suit.

Crucially, the donation was made to the Republican Governors Association (RGA). Although the main focus so far has been on the House and Senate races, where unusual candidates and unusually large predicted gains have drawn media attention, the GOP also looks likely to gain a majority of governorships. There are 37 governorships being contested this year, the most ever in a single election.

Unlike national political parties and individual candidates for the House and Senate, gubernatorial campaigns can accept unlimited donations from corporations. News Corporation has clearly taken advantage of this in choosing the destination of its funds.

Kansas, Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming and Wisconsin all look likely to swing to the Republicans, and in several more states the race is too close to call. A combination of governing-party implosion and the after-effects of the recession will probably allow the Republicans to take six or seven governorships overall, despite a few potential wobbles by GOP candidates in Connecticut, Hawaii and Minnesota.

This is by no means the first time that Murdoch has switched political allegiances to favour his own business interests. In the UK, his famed switch from Conservative to Labour stands out, as does the less prominent switch back for the most recent general election.

Targeting the funding at gubernatorial races rather than those for the House and Senate is undoubtedly designed to further the "pro-business agenda" identified by News Corporation. Although there are variations with individual state constitutions, many governors wield immense power over budgeting and local government appointments, enabling them to set the agenda for regulation and taxation in their state. It increasingly seems that many state legislatures will also swing to the Republicans, and so new governors aren't likely to have much trouble passing legislation once they're in office.

According to information released through the Internal Revenue Service, the RGA has raised $58m in the first half of this year to the Democrats' $40m. In addition to benefiting from anti-incumbent sentiment and recession backlash, the RGA has received significant donations from health insurance giants such as Wellpoint, in response to the passage of the Democrats' health-care bill earlier this year.

Across the US, the midterms are going to be a useful political bellwether for how the parties are really faring post-2008. Murdoch's donation signals perhaps the most intriguing area: how many governorships can the Republicans take?

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”