I’m talking to voters in a swing county in North Carolina, and they’re besotted with the successful businessman who’s running for president. They like his blunt talk. They like that he’s not a traditional politician. They see him as a man of action. They say he’d run America like a business.
One guy, a small business owner, tells me that the mogul has guts: “He wouldn’t owe anybody anything. At least he would step on toes and make somebody mad.” Another guy, a welder, tells me, “Hell, he’s given me a chance to believe in something again.”
Actually, I got those quotes in the spring of 1992. They were talking about Ross Perot.
Today, whenever I hear people extolling Donald Trump’s business creds, and insist that what America needs is a businessman at the helm, I flash back to Perot’s boomlet. The self-made mogul soared for awhile in the polls, until it became clear that he lacked the temperament for governance. (Running a business is way different from running a country.) Plus, he was a nutcase. (He said the Black Panthers were plotting to kill him, and that Republicans were plotting to disrupt his daughter’s wedding.)
Nevertheless, in part because so many Americans are clueless about American history, we’re now seeing a fresh outbreak of business-deification syndrome. Just because Trump has built hotels and casinos, somehow this supposedly qualifies him to take ownership of the nuclear codes. But Trump’s fans say it is so, because (as Der Leader likes to point out) he’s the only candidate in this race who has ever met a payroll.
Um, here’s a history factoid: The only career businessman ever elected to the presidency, the only guy who made his living by meeting a payroll, was mining magnate Herbert Hoover. His one-term tenure during the Great Depression was so disastrous that the Republicans got exiled from the White House for 20 years.
Hoover took office amidst high praise for his organizational acumen. He would run America just like he ran his business. His success in the private sector would spread to the public sector. One journalist later recalled, “We were in a mood for magic. We summoned a great engineer to solve our problems.” But after the stock market crashed, it quickly became clear that he lacked the unique skills required of a president: the ability to communicate, to calm public fears, to adapt and cajole, to compromise.
Hoover was buried in a ’32 landslide by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who possessed most of those skills. And FDR never met a payroll in his life.
Business leaders are used to getting their own way. Their basic purview is narrow; their goal is the maximization of profit in one company or corporate sector. By contrast, a president’s range of action is circumscribed by checks and balances, by people who are constitutionally empowered to say no, by vested political interests that can make his life miserable. A president who can’t communicate, who can’t articulate his vision of the national interest, is typically toast. Ronald Reagan succeeded in part because he earned his nickname The Great Communicator. He never met a payroll, either.
Bill Clinton never met a payroll, either. Indeed, Republicans predicted in 1993 that the career politician’s big tax hikes on the rich would kill jobs and trigger a deep recession. (Dick Armey, a GOP leader: “The impact on job creation is going to be devastating.”) But somehow, despite Clinton’s nil business experience, 23 million new jobs were created during his eight-year tenure.
And hang on a sec — didn’t the Republicans suffer a decisive defeat just four years ago, after nominating Mitt Romney? A guy who touted his business career as a prime presidential asset? Why are Trump’s creds any better? Trump typically licenses his name to other developers — does that somehow make him more qualified than Mitt to “run America like a business?”
(By the way, Mitt promised in 2012 that his business skills would lower the jobless rate: “Over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we’d put in place, we’d get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent.” But today, after three Mittless years, the unemployment rate is down to 4.9 percent. And Barack Obama never met a payroll, either.)
And yet, the dream of a businessman-president persists. It flared briefly for Lee Iacocca, the ’70s Chrysler CEO (whose main accomplishment was getting the feds to bail out his company); it flared, even more briefly during the ’80s, for Olympic Games chief Peter Ueberroth. And then came Ross Perot.
What fans he had, back in the day! That time in North Carolina, whenever I’d bring up Herbert Hoover, they’d either stare at me, not comprehending, or they’d simply shrug. And whenever I pointed out that Perot was a blank slate on the policy front, that he wanted to cut the deficit but seemed to know nothing about anything else, I got answers like this one, from a small business owner:
“Look, it’s like getting married. The only way you’re going to really know the girl, and how you feel about her, is if you marry the girl.”
That’s brilliant. Tonight, in the delegate-rich Michigan Republican primary, we’ll see whether the voters are jonesing to take that kind of flyer. Or whether they’re starting to come to their senses.
Hat tip to veteran investigative reporter Mike Isikoff, for giving us a fresh take on Trump’s business creds. It’s actually a three-fer: Mob ties, racism, and sexism.
Turns out, one of Der Leader’s partying buddies was Robert LiButti, a mob figure with ties to Mafia boss John Gotti. LiButti loved to gamble in Atlantic City, at a Trump casino; in fact, according to nine employes, “the hotel had repeatedly removed African-Americans and women from craps tables after LiButti, one of the highest-rolling gamblers in the city’s history, loudly complained about their presence when he was playing.”
Yeah. Let’s run America that way.