US business leaders lament their ‘Faustian deal’ with Trump

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“It’s always been this Faustian deal with Trump,” Dan Eberhart admitted this week. The CEO of Canary, a Denver-based drilling services company, had endured the “ridicule” associated with Donald Trump because he also put in place pro-growth policies and low taxes.

Mr Eberhardt has donated $ 100,000 to political committees supporting Trump and helped raise an additional $ 600,000 from other donors despite “all the time” complaints for supporting a historically divisive president, he said .

But after witnessing the murderous violence on Wednesday at the Capitol building after the president pushed a crowd of supporters, he told the Financial Times: “I’m done. I don’t want my mom to think I’m involved in this.

Few mainstream business leaders have expressed support for the incendiary populist in the final weeks of his administration. But now even the mainstays are distancing themselves, amid warnings of a backlash against leaders who funded a president, many are now responsible for endangering the rule of law.

Stephen Schwarzman, the founder of Blackstone who was Mr Trump’s longest-serving supporter on Wall Street, in November defended the president’s right to challenge election results in court. On Wednesday, the head of private equity condemned the “appalling” insurgency “which followed the president’s remarks.”

Activist investor Nelson Peltz said he was “sorry” for voting for Mr. Trump in November © Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg

Activist investor Nelson Peltz told CNBC on Thursday that he voted for president in November, but was now “sorry he did that.” The investor said he had supported many of Mr. Trump’s policies, “but so much was undone yesterday with what we all saw.”

More strikingly, the National Manufacturers Association, which directed more than 70% of its 2020 campaign contributions to Republicans, called on US Vice President Mike Pence to “seriously consider working with cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment. In order to remove the president. from the office.

Threat of employee reaction

Businesses were realizing they had to “stop supporting those who made the slow and steady decay” of American democracy, said Aron Cramer, head of BSR, a group that advises businesses on their social responsibilities. This, he added, would mean reducing campaign contributions to those such as Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley who encouraged what the business roundtable called “the fiction of a fraudulent 2020 presidential election.” .

“We live in an age of employee activism and many employees will wonder why their companies are supporting office holders. [who] allowed an unfounded challenge to the election and therefore to democracy, ”Cramer said.

In a straw poll of 33 CEOs this week, Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management found unanimous support that companies should warn their lobbyists that they will no longer fund “election results deniers.” “.

“There isn’t a major managing director who is a Trump supporter now,” Professor Sonnenfeld said.

Business advisers said executives’ concerns had been exacerbated by threats from Project Lincoln – a well-funded group that campaigned against Mr Trump with viral social media ads – to start the fire on donor companies .

Steve Schmidt, a founder of the Lincoln Project, this week threatened “a brutal corporate pressure campaign” that would seek to “foment employee rebellions and shareholder uprisings” at companies that had donated to allies of the Mr. Trump’s Congress.

Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, which tracks investor uprisings over political spending, said companies should become “much more cautious” about their financial backing. “If this is a consumer-oriented business, they worry about a boycott and they also worry about employee morale.”

Leadership support for the Trump administration’s numbers has already sparked crises. Equinox and SoulCycle clients protested when Stephen Ross, president of parent company of the fitness chains, organized a 2019 fundraiser for Mr. Trump, and AT&T ousted its main lobbyist after admitting that the Hiring Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney, was “a big mistake. “.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump gather in front of the US Capitol on Wednesday © Alex Edelman / AFP / Getty

However, some attempts to spark consumer protests have failed. Despite a campaign to boycott The Home Depot because co-founder Bernie Marcus funded the Trump campaign, the DIY chain has produced some of the strongest recent results of any U.S. retailer.

“There is a critical mass” before the boycotts are effective, said Chip Franklin, a radio host who had supported the Home Depot campaign. “But sometimes, the mere threat of a boycott is enough to get shareholders and others inside the company to contain a CEO.”

Trump officials enter tough job market

Councilors said the shock of this week’s events would be a test of the business community’s commitment to social responsibility after a year in which leaders have spoken out on issues ranging from fairness racialism to America’s handling of the pandemic.

Despite the traditional revolving door between Washington and American businesses, they added, few companies would be willing to hire veterans of the Trump administration. Leadership Now, a coalition comprising executives from Bank of America and LinkedIn, said companies should “make it clear that the president’s facilitators will have no future employment opportunities with them.”

This week’s breach capped four years of friction between business and a president who spread an anti-elite message and then ignored the views of most big companies on issues ranging from trade to immigration.

CEOs abandoned Mr. Trump’s corporate councils in August 2017, when he said there were “very good people” at a white supremacist rally that turned out to be deadly in Charlottesville , Virginia.

But some returned later, with executives such as Visa’s Al Kelly and then-IBM chief Ginni Rometty praising his administration’s leadership at a 2019 requalification meeting.

Mr. Trump’s 2020 campaign raised five times as much from S&P 500 leaders as Mr. Biden’s campaign, MarketWatch calculated, with the largest donations coming from Jeff Sprecher of the Intercontinental Exchange, Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands , Steven Roth of Vornado and Oracle Safra Catz.

Even as activists attacked the role business played in supporting Mr. Trump, some industry groups argued that business should play a bigger role in Washington.

Along with priorities such as infrastructure spending, the US Chamber of Commerce announced an event next week to discuss the “critical” role the business community could play in “strengthening democracy.”

Mr Eberhart was already wondering which Republican he would support in 2024, but said he could not now be funded by another campaign from Mr Trump or a member of his family.

“I think it’s an irreparable breakup,” he said: “It’s crazy. No one signed up for it. ”

Additional reporting by Alistair Gray

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