Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson led rightwing backlash after Major League Baseball said it would not play its All-Star game in Georgia because of a new law that restricts voting rights in the state.
The former president and the Fox News host some say is his Republican political heir thereby ranged themselves against current president Joe Biden and the Democrat he served as vice-president, Barack Obama.
“Baseball is already losing tremendous numbers of fans,” Trump said in a statement, “and now they leave Atlanta with their All-Star Game because they are afraid of the radical left Democrats.
“… Boycott baseball and all of the woke companies that are interfering with free and fair elections. Are you listening Coke, Delta and all?”
Coke and Delta are among companies which have expressed concern over the Georgia law, which restricts early and mail-in voting, measures seen to target minority voters likely to back Democrats.
Laws under consideration in other Republican-run states have attracted criticism from corporate America. The Georgia law was passed by Republicans after Biden won the state against Trump and Democrats won both Senate runoff elections in January.
Referring to the segregation of the post-civil war south, Biden called the law: “Jim Crow in the 21st century.”
In his own statement on Saturday, Obama congratulated MLB “for taking a stand on behalf of voting rights for all citizens”.
He also said: “There’s no better way for America’s pastime to honor the great Hank Aaron, who always led by example.”
Aaron, known as the Hammer, was a long-time MLB home-run record holder who played for the Atlanta Braves and endured racist abuse throughout his life in the sport. He died in January, aged 86.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said he had “decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB draft” from the home of the Atlanta Braves.
“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”
The move was not without precedent. In 2016 North Carolina lost the right to host high-profile NCAA college events over a bill which restricted rights for transgender people.
On Friday night Carlson, who some say could be a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 if Trump does not run again, claimed MLB “believes it has veto power over the democratic process”.
Before MLB acted, Biden said he would support moving events from Atlanta. Carlson said that showed the president was “willing to destroy even something as wholesome as the country’s traditional game purely to increase the power of his political party”.
The chief of the MLB players union has indicated support for the move. In a statement on Friday, the New York Yankees great and Miami Marlins chief executive Derek Jeter said: “We should promote increasing voter turnout as opposed to any measures that adversely impact the ability to cast a ballot … We support the commissioner’s decision to stand up for the values of our game.”
Georgia governor Brian Kemp – a bête noire for Trump over his refusal to overturn Biden’s win – said MLB had “caved to fear, political opportunism and liberal lies”. He also decried “cancel culture”, a key Republican talking point.
Stacey Abrams, who Kemp beat in a 2018 election he ran as Georgia secretary of state, said she was “disappointed” the All-Star game would not be played in the state.
But Abrams, who campaigns for voting rights and has become an influential figure in the national Democratic party, also said she was “proud of [MLB’s] stance on voting rights” and “urged events and productions to come and speak out or stay and fight”.
Also on Friday, nearly 200 companies signed a statement expressing concern at moves to restrict voting rights in Republican-run states.
Many observers pointed out that the political ramifications of MLB’s decision to move the All-Star Game will be stronger than the economic fallout, given that coronavirus-related restrictions would have placed limits on capacity at the event this year.
A leading professor of sports economics warned that MLB could risk losing the support of conservatives in a fanbase which skews right.
“After the country’s top professional basketball and football leagues embraced the Black Lives Matter movement last year,” Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College told the New York Times, “they faced organised boycotts from conservatives, though the effort ultimately had little effect. And baseball’s fanbase is older and whiter than basketball’s or football’s.”