The most recent drama around Trump’s breakup with business revolved around the departure of Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier from the president’s manufacturing council. Frazier resigned to protest Trump’s bungled messaging over the racial violence in Charlottesville. After Trump responded by trolling Frazier on Twitter, other council members, including Intel, Under Armor and 3M, abandoned ship.
Even before Charlottesville, the CEOs of Tesla and Uber had resigned their White House advisory roles over Trump’s immigration and climate change policies. Leaders of the iconic American corporations Coke, Ford and Disney have expressed concerns with some of the president’s policy positions.
Before the dust settled on the manufacturing council, members of the strategic and policy forum decided to disband their presidential advisory group. When the news was shared with the White House, the president hastily announced he was ending both groups. By the time Trump tweeted that he was scraping his manufacturing council and strategic and policy forum, there was nothing left to disband.
Regardless of who dumped who, public breakups are messy affairs, and this one is the messiest in recent political memory. This is Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston territory. And public breakups are hard to recover from.
In the short term, disbanding the groups will not impact the day-to-day affairs of the small-business owner working hard to make ends meet. These were ceremonial, not true working groups. They were PR opportunities. So were the defections. So was the disbanding. And when the public relations purpose for the groups vanished, so did the members.
In the long run however, the breakup between Trump and the business community will negatively impact the economy because it hurts the president’s ability to deliver on his pro-business policies, especially considering these are big names, power players, modern titans of industry. These business leaders are very wealthy, very influential, very powerful, and for the most part conservative. While Trump was not their first choice for the Republican nomination, they clearly realized he had a more business friendly agenda than Hillary Clinton. That binary choice in the presidential election led to nervous support for Donald Trump.
The uneasy marriage was based on a coolly calculated conclusion that these business leaders would balance Trump’s controversial comments against his pro- business agenda: the promise of fixing Obamacare, strengthening the U.S. trade position, achieving meaningful tax reform and rolling back unreasonable business regulations.
That balance was lost with Congress handing the president a failure on Obamacare and minimal progress being made on improved trade deals. Regulatory relief is one bright spot for the Trump administration, but many fear the myriad controversies such as Russia and Charlottesville are taking the oxygen out of the room to accomplish meaningful tax reform.
Beyond the theatrics, there are real consequences for businesses and the economy. We need regulatory reform. We need to fix a broken tax system. We need to improve an overgrown and underperforming federal government. We need a stronger trade position for our local companies to make more at home and sell more abroad.
The marriage between this president and the business community was always a tenuous one. Business leaders accepted the braggadocio behavior in hopes the president would curb the controversial campaign rhetoric and focus on re-energizing the economy. The hopes haven’t panned out and the opportunity for accomplishing the important work of the country is fading fast.
Derek B. Miller is the president and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah. Previously he was chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert (R-Utah) and managing director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Follow him @DerekMillerUtah or on Facebook at DerekMillerUtah.