Business and a Second Trump Term

Equipo
By Equipo
8 Min Read

If Donald Trump wins a second term, he has promised to govern as no modern president has, imposing steep tariffs, rounding up immigrants, freeing Jan. 6 rioters and possibly pulling out of NATO. Trump has signaled that he will accomplish all this by appointing loyalists, rather than the more moderate military leaders and corporate executives from his first term.

Even so, many C.E.O.s are unconcerned, as my colleague Jonathan Mahler described them in a recent article. They don’t believe Trump will do what he has promised, in contrast to many scholars who have studied politicians like Trump and believe that he will follow through.

To make sense of the situation, I asked for help from Jonathan and three Times reporters who have been covering Trump’s second-term plans: Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage and Jonathan Swan. Our exchange follows.

‘They can work with him’

David Leonhardt: Do C.E.O.s just assume that Trump will fail to implement his agenda — or do they quietly support it?

Jonathan Mahler: Most C.E.O.s are not wild about a second Trump term. They had a rocky ride the first time around — though they did get the tax cuts and deregulation they wanted — and they are pretty sure he will bring instability, which is generally bad for business.

Having said that, many are also down on President Biden, who has been much more aggressive about regulating business. And I don’t have the impression that they have absorbed the messages that Trump and his allies have been sending about what a second term would look like.

It may be hard for C.E.O.s to imagine that they could have a lot less influence next time. But to me, that attitude seems to ignore both history and political currents around the world, including within America’s own conservative movement.

Charlie Savage: The premise here is that C.E.O.s would be more motivated by larger issues of American democracy as a matter of enlightened self-interest than by their direct self-interest. I am not sure that premise holds.

It is common to hear the term “populist” used as shorthand for Trumpism. But that isn’t the right label if the question is which candidate’s policies are more likely to allow corporations and the wealthy to amass more money in the near term. Biden would let Trump’s 2017 income tax cuts expire for affluent people, while Trump is promising a new corporate tax cut. And Trump disparages regulatory agencies — the means by which society imposes rules on powerful business interests, which can cut into their profits — as part of the “deep state” he has vowed to dismantle.

Many radical aspects of Trump’s agenda are not incompatible with the wealthy getting wealthier.

(Related: In a speech yesterday, Biden harshly criticized Trump as a protector of the wealthy. “He looks at the economy from Mar-a-Lago, where he and his rich friends embrace the failed trickle-down policies that have failed working families for more than 40 years,” Biden said.)

Maggie Haberman: I think some C.E.O.s are telling themselves that there were similar warnings about Trump in 2016, and that they believe he’s so transactional that they can work with him. The problem with that take is that Trump’s interest in the C.E.O.s is entirely need based. Yes, he likes approval from the wealthy. But if he wins, he cannot legally run for president again, which would be unconstraining for him.

I think the basic point that these executives are unhappy with economic policy under Biden is crucial. I have heard endless complaints about the climate initiatives, student debt relief and the federal deficit (despite a lack of complaining from the same executives when Trump increased the deficit).

Most importantly, these executives tend to roll their eyes at coverage of Trump’s radical plans and tell themselves they can find ways to navigate it.

‘Averting their gazes’

Jonathan Swan: Trump will have far fewer incentives in 2025 than he did in 2017 to appease corporate America. The donor class largely abandoned him after Jan. 6, even if some are slowly coming back now. American banks refuse to do business with the Trump Organization.

And under Trump, the Republican base has changed dramatically. They are more blue collar, more likely to loathe corporate chieftains and Davos “thought leaders.” The relationship between corporate America and congressional Republicans has also chilled. I have heard something like this from several Trump-aligned Republicans about corporate America: “We protected you for years. And then you turned around and sided with the Democrats on every major cultural issue — the environment, immigration, diversity and inclusion and voting rights.”

Most Republicans are still cozy with corporate interests, but some of the newer Trump-aligned members of Congress, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, are less dependent on corporate money because they raise a ton online from grass-roots donors.

David Leonhardt: I’m left believing that many C.E.O.s genuinely support a lot of Trump’s agenda — but also oppose other parts. The executives seem to be betting they can get the parts they like without the ones they don’t.

Maggie Haberman: No matter how genuinely they support or don’t support specific pieces, many are animated by greater antipathy toward Biden than attraction to Trump. And they’re averting their gazes from the parts they don’t like.

SPORTS

N.B.A.: The Sacramento Kings defeated the Golden State Warriors, 118-94, in a Play-In game. The Warriors are eliminated from playoff contention.

Los Angeles Lakers: The Kings will play the Pelicans for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot after the Lakers won in New Orleans to advance to the full playoffs.

W.N.B.A.: Monday’s draft averaged 2.4 million viewers; the previous record was 601,000, in 2004.

Cage-match politics: Dana White, the chief executive of the U.F.C., has risen to the peak of Trump-era political influence.

ARTS AND IDEAS

Medics in the U.S. have begun to explore an idea that was first popularized in Britain: “social prescription.” That means trying to address problems like isolation and stress by suggesting patients explore nonclinical activities; think glassblowing, walks in nature, or ballroom dancing.

Some experts, however, are skeptical about how far the approach will go in a nation without socialized medicine: “I think all the biases built into the system favor medical care and more acute intensive care,” a health policy professor told The Times.

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