By Joe Kefauver, Align Public Strategies
One of the fundamental building blocks of operating a business of any size is the owner’s or company’s ability to successfully manage risk.
There is the inherent risk in determining the cost and benefits of expanding or decreasing your staff; the risk involved in developing new products that may or may not be received well by your customers; and, of course, whether to grow and expand the business.
Managing risk also finds its way into our political choices. Identifying a candidate that best exemplifies your philosophy and world view can be an arduous task and while most voters never find their “perfect candidate,” they settle for one who they feel most comfortable with and whom they think is the safest choice. They manage risk.
In most cases, seasoned business leaders would rather have bad news they can plan for rather than wade into the unknown. The stock markets that bet on those businesses often feel the same way. “Go with the devil you know,” as the saying goes.
For the first time in a long time, we are faced with a frontrunner candidate we actually know very little about in terms of likely policy decisions. The Trump campaign hasn’t exactly bowled us over with thorough and scholarly issue papers outlining the candidate’s deeply held convictions on the important challenges of the day and how they translate into his policy agenda.
One reason a Trump presidency is so worrisome for many business people and economists is his reckless, no-holds-barred approach to “policies.”
Let’s be clear about something — calling any of his plans for the economy and foreign affairs “policies” is using the term loosely. He has not been shy about admitting he relies on newspapers and Sunday political shows for guidance. The rest is up to him “because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things,” Trump told MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
We do know that he is a true Washington D.C. outsider with zero experience running a government at any level. The outsider part of that is appealing to plenty of voters, especially considering how little gets done by the people currently residing in the nation’s capital.
But running a government is much different than operating a company. Not only is Trump going to surround himself with people who don’t know anything about how the federal government works or its political nuisances, but he is proudly boasting about it. If our potential leader is happy to demonstrate on a regular basis that his arrogance is exceeded only by his ignorance, “We the People” could be in for a wild ride.
One of the fundamental components of our body politic that we have collectively lost sight of is that elections are supposed to be about establishing a mandate to govern. They are supposed to provide clarity and permission for the elected official to pursue the policy course spelled out on the campaign trail. But in the last 20 years, we have devolved into a state of the permanent campaign where the tools of government are used for electoral purposes, not the other way around. We’ll call the current Supreme Court nonsense example No. 1.
The Trump candidacy, and a corresponding Trump presidency, would take that to the next level. Get ready for Policy by Twitter.
As a candidate, Trump stirs international attention in 140 characters or less. As President, a single tweet from the allegedly small thumbs of @realDonaldTrump could disrupt diplomacy efforts and foreign relations, sway domestic and international markets, and inevitably hurt consumer sentiments by creating daily uncertainty in the American economy. And again, the markets hate uncertainty. Making fun of the way Ted Cruz’s wife looks is despicable enough, but there’s not a huge price to pay. Making fun of the way Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, looks could be a really big problem.
A few months ago, this whole act was to most folks an entertaining sideshow. Now here we are many months and 700 delegates later. Newsflash: Trump’s not going anywhere! Sure, he didn’t win Wisconsin and his campaign has stumbled lately. But none of that has swept his comb-over out of place. Watch what he does in New York. And look at his loyal supporters. They feel more empowered than they ever have in their lives. Their guy is still leading the dwindling pack for the GOP nomination and Pennsylvania Avenue could actually become his home address.
There is a long road ahead in the 2016 campaign with him in the race, and it is time to consider how businesses should respond to his rhetoric and governing style if there is a Trump White House.
With the exception of Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and very few others, almost all company execs have kept their heads down so far and refused to publicly reject or criticize any of Trump’s more egregious and sometimes reckless statements, regardless of whether they have a direct impact on their business.
You can’t blame them really. Why take on a guy who so enjoys the blood sport of verbal retaliation? And besides, he can’t win, right? This stay-silent strategy was a lot easier when executives optimistically thought Trump’s popularity (and policy ideas) would soon fade. Looks like it’s time for a new strategy.
If the general election ultimately comes down to a Trump vs. Clinton race, it will be interesting for business leaders to go through the process of assessing and managing their risk.
With Hillary Clinton, you pretty much know what you’re going to get, especially if you are an employer in the restaurant, hospitality and retail space. The third Obama Administration.
With Trump, it’s like jumping into the old waterhole and hoping it’s deep enough, but you just don’t know.
Maybe business leaders should get their political news from the Weather Channel for the rest of the campaign — deciding whether to plan for the Category 5 hurricane we know far in advance is coming our way, or pitch their tents in Tornado Alley where the catastrophic storms appear without warning.