The decision by Amazon this week to abandon its planned headquarters in New York City tapped into one of the major themes of left-wing Democrats: that giant corporations — and in some cases the billionaires who run them — must be held to account for wage inequality, corporate greed and middle-class stagnation.
And some contenders and would-be contenders for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination were quick to take a victory lap over the retailer’s sudden reversal.
The economic incentives offered the company amounted to no more than “taxpayer bribes,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who accused Amazon of holding American democracy “hostage.”
.@Amazon – one of the wealthiest companies on the planet – just walked away from billions in taxpayer bribes, all because some elected officials in New York aren't sucking up to them enough. How long will we allow giant corporations to hold our democracy hostage? https://t.co/O9pz7en43B
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 14, 2019
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has introduced the “Stop BEZOS Act” to tax companies that he says underpay employees, congratulated New Yorkers “for standing up to the power of Amazon.”
Their blunt condemnation of Amazon underscores the extent to which this has become an animating issue for the far left. And their reaction is one act in a broader set of 2020 issues for progressive Democrats that includes the Green New Deal, which proposes far-reaching federal intervention in the economy to tackle climate change, and the determination to rein in leviathan tech companies, whose founders have lost their luster as heroes of a new economy.
Candidates and potential candidates perceived as more centrist did not immediately weigh in, reflecting one of the fault lines in a Democratic Party wrestling over who is the best standard-bearer to suit up for a coming titanic struggle with President Trump. Some candidates, like Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, have deeper connections to tech companies.
The views of centrists may have been channeled by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, who slammed fellow Democrats for putting “their own narrow political interests above their community.”
The sudden unraveling of the Amazon deal on Thursday meant the company’s promise of 25,000 jobs in New York City would be unfulfilled over opposition to the city and state’s offer of $ 3 billion in tax incentives, which highlighted the practice of luring businesses to states and cities with promises of big tax breaks.
“There are large questions philosophically about whether taxpayers should give billions of dollars to billionaires,” said Gordon Hintz, the Democratic minority leader of the Wisconsin State Assembly, who is a critic of a state deal in 2017 to lure the electronics giant Foxconn with $ 4 billion in taxpayer subsidies.
“There’s frustration in the public right now where wealth is being concentrated, the opportunities for economic mobility are lower, and they see the people who receive these deals seemingly unconcerned with their reality,” he added.
Wisconsin, a battleground state that Mr. Trump narrowly won in 2016 as part of his appeal to white blue-collar voters, is certain to be a crossroads of national Democratic contenders ahead of 2020, as they try to win back some of those voters and excite others who stayed home. That Mr. Trump played a role in the Foxconn deal — and jumped in again recently when the Taiwan-based company wavered — is a ready-made target for Democrats inclined to criticize corporate giveaways.
Mr. Hintz said the issue played a role in the re-election loss last year of Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican.
Even as New York sent Amazon packing, other cities and regions renewed their courtship of the company. On Thursday, Newark officials sent a courier in red to deliver a giant heart-shaped card to the company bearing the Valentine’s Day message that the city and New Jersey “still love u, Amazon!”
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Mr. Booker, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, has made no comment on the deal. A Democratic county chairman in Iowa, Kurt Meyer, who put Mr. Booker up overnight on a recent swing through the state, predicted that criticisms of large corporations would feature in appeals to the party base there, which is more progressive than in many states. Iowa’s $ 208 million in incentives for an Apple data center near Des Moines with just 50 jobs was debated in last year’s midterm elections.
“I suspect the issue will be exploited extensively in Iowa, due in part to our vague but distinct sense of economic insecurity, which, while unrelated to Amazon and Apple, is pretty dry tinder,” Mr. Meyer said.
At a CNN town hall in Iowa last month, Ms. Harris was asked if the existence of multibillionaires was “morally defensible.” She replied that the 2017 Republican tax cut bill was “unconscionable” for giving breaks to corporations and those in the top 1 percent but excluding working families.
Amazon’s decision to cancel its deal with New York also comes at a time when prominent Democratic lawmakers in Washington are crafting legislation and advocating policies that could constrain or even break up large technology companies.
In the past two years, big scandals in the technology sector have made privacy and the security of social media networks hotly debated issues. Russian entities used Facebook’s network to try and influence the 2016 presidential election. The Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that Facebook users’ data had been misused.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and candidate for president, is sponsoring a bill that would require disclosure about who is paying for online political advertising. Ms. Warren supports antitrust policies. Mr. Sanders’s Stop BEZOS Act, named for the chief executive of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, would tax corporations whose low-wage workers find it necessary to rely on food stamps and government health care benefits.
The push to step up regulation may have support among the public. In a Pew Research poll last year, 55 percent of the respondents said technology companies had too much power and influence, compared with 37 percent who said the firms had the right amount.
But not every party official believes in shaming corporate chieftains and corporations.
In northeast Ohio, Representative Tim Ryan, a Democrat whose district recently lost 1,600 jobs with the shutdown of a plant making the Chevrolet Cruze, wrote a letter on Friday imploring Amazon to build a second headquarters there.
Mr. Ryan, in an interview, predicted that everyone at the basketball game he planned to attend Friday night at Howland High School, where his daughter is a cheerleader, would be talking about how to lure Amazon and its jobs to the area.
Ohio is a swing state that Democrats, including Senator Sherrod Brown, who is weighing a presidential bid, would like to win back in 2020.
“It doesn’t serve us well to be hostile to business in general,” Mr. Ryan said. “We need them. We can’t reverse climate change. We can’t rebuild manufacturing. We can’t retool work force development without a partnership with the free enterprise system.”