“This is quite a game, politics. There are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests.”
These days, American business leaders might well ponder that political adage.
The current issue of The Economist may have summarized this situation best in “The Affair Why corporate America loves Donald Trump” current cover story :
“American business may one day conclude that this was the moment when it booked all the benefits of the Trump era, while failing to account properly for the costs.”
Put more crudely, it might be said this way:
“Hey, we got our tax cuts and many government regulations are disappearing. Maybe it’s time to take a new look at the baggage that comes with this president.”
Why? Because Trump Administration politics last week was especially tough for many U.S. business leaders. Consider:
The U.S. imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union. Similar trade protection against China could be imminent. And Vice President Mike Pence torpedoed relations with Canada by abruptly demanding a five-year sunset clause for a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement, according to The New York Times .
The AP headline:
“Trade-war fears arise as Trump levies tariffs on important steel and aluminum”
Business leaders’ reaction was immediate.
Tom Donohue, Chief Executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, warned that the Trump Administration’s trade policies will hamstring the U.S. robust economic growth and threaten as many as 2.6 million jobs. See “Trump’s Trade Policies Threaten Millions of Jobs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce says” .
Harley Davidson: retaliatory tariffs “would have a significant impact on our sales.”
Levi Strauss: “American brands, workers and consumers will ultimately suffer.”
And farmers are equally concerned. The AP reported: “‘They’re going to hit the famers hard, said Bryan Klabunde of Minnesota. ‘We want things fair for all industries, but we’re going to take the brunt of the punishment if other countries retaliate.”
Also last week, Trump via the U.S. Department of Energy, invoking “emergency authority” — based on “national security” — moved to compel U.S. power-grid operators to buy from ailing coal and nuclear plants. This, a “Hail Mary” political pass to try to keep these plants open despite their competitive disadvantages.
These were just the latest of many Trump attempts to “pick winners ad losers” based on his perceived political fortunes. Among targets of his ire: Amazon/Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post; the U.S. Post Office system; and CNN .
Will all those attacks on traditional free-market Republican orthodoxy reduce business leaders’ political support for Trump?
Will the GOP-controlled Congress act to claw back power abducted by the executive branch?
You would think so if you’re impressed by how Senator Bob Corker reacted over the weekend.
“These two stories feel like something I could have read in a local Caracas newspaper … not in America. Venezuela here WE come … I am working with like-minded Republican senators on ways to push back on the president using authorities in ways never intended and that are damaging our country and our allies. Will Democrats join us?”
GOP Senators Orin Hatch and Floyd Flake have also been critical of such Trump moves. Of course, like Senator Corker, they are retiring from the Senate at the end of this term.
On the other hand, reactions from GOP congressional leaders have been lukewarm. Ironic in the case of Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell because early on, one of the U.S. exported products likely to be penalized by the EU in retaliatory fashion is … wait, Kentucky bourbon.